Category: General Fiction
Word Count: 1160
Things would have been so different if the window had not been there, but the house had been built with a window at the landing where the stair made its ninety-degree angle. Not an ordinary window, no, but a large oval with a round center and radiating panes meant to flood the lower stair with sunlight. When she had first been tall enough to peer out of the window’s bottom glass, she had often pretended that she was an angel watching the earth from behind a heavenly star. Perhaps it was leftover elation from that fantasy that had formed her habit of always pausing to look out the window whenever she ascended or descended the stairs. No matter how hurried her steps, there was always a second for a swift glance, and when her world was languid minutes could slip by unnoticed as she gazed down from the window.
Cissy had been daydreaming as she made her way down the stairs to join Alistair, the same dreams that had repeatedly filled her mind in those days: a wedding, a honeymoon, a happy home with smiling children. She had looked out the window solely out of habit and then noticed Alistair walking toward the swimming pool. When the house had first been built, the window had looked down on a garden with a large fountain and a reflecting pond, but her grandfather had enjoyed action much more than reflection, and the swimming pool had been installed when private pools were still a novelty. Her father had modernized the pool shortly after his father’s death, and it was frequently in use during the warm summer months. Cissy smiled as she observed Alistair. She loved to watch him no matter what he was doing. Dressed in just swim trunks and striding confidently across the lawn, he was to her a mesmerizing sight. She watched him intently, too intently to miss even the slight nuances that she later could not forget. She watched him join the two girls, her cousins, who swam to the side of the pool to speak to him. She heard not a word that was exchanged between them, of course, but watched their interaction. Torie was only sixteen, yet her face and body had achieved a curvaceous maturity, and Pauline had been last year’s prettiest debutante. Cissy watched and slowly the elation she felt ebbed, and a curiously deflating queasiness seeped into her soul. Not that Alistair had done anything untoward; there had been nothing specific for which she could blame him. In fact, when she walked out to the pool, she had returned his kiss, and they had spent a pleasant afternoon together.
No, her life had not torn asunder that afternoon, but Cissy knew that what she had seen through the window had been the reason for her acquiescing to her father’s suggestion.
“Cecily, dear, if there is even a chance that you might consider marriage to Alistair, it would be the prudent thing to do. And it can be done very discretely. If nothing comes of it, Alistair need never know, and my mind will be at rest.”
A picture of Alistair wrapping a towel around Torie flashed in Cissy’s mind, and she replied softly, “If you feel you must, Father, do it and set your mind at ease.”
The chief of security for their family’s company had handled the arrangements for the private investigation. When her father had placed the report in her hands, Cissy had drawn in a deep breath and retreated to her room to read it. The report had been professional and detailed and not horrifically damning. Alistair Jacobs did not have a criminal background — well, except for that one juvenile arrest — or an undivorced wife or even unacknowledged children. The report contained no indisputable proof that Alistair was a con man or gold-digging gigolo, but it showed clearly that he had lied. Alistair had lied repeatedly to Cissy about numerous things in his background and his life before the two of them had met. Not one of the lies was that important in and of itself; many of them might have been simply a severe case of gilding the lily. Cissy did not throw the report down with curses or even toss it aside to weep, but read it through with burning eyes. Then she set it down on the dresser beside her bed and walked down the stairs stopping at the window to stare out at the autumn day. She watched the wind set hundreds of leaves falling and listened to her mother though Mamie Van Court had died four years before.
“Cissy, darling, desire or passion are not the most important part of a love true enough to build a life on. No, trust is more important to that love than anything else. I’ve always known I could trust your father and would never do anything to betray his trust in me.”
She had believed Alistair’s lies and that was the one thing she could not forgive or forget, for she would never trust herself to know if he lied to her again. She had gone to her father then and told him that she would deal with the matter. He had told her he trusted her to make the right decision, patted her hand, and kissed her cheek.
Cissy detested gossip so had not indulged in any dramatic confrontations with Alistair. She had simply and determinedly let their relationship slip away and die. Actually, it had been easier to arrange than she had feared, for, in all truth, she had begun pulling away the day she watched him from the window.
A little less than a year later she heard of his marriage to a West Coast socialite and told herself that should settle the matter forever in her mind, but she was practical enough to realize that she could not have expected him to become a monk even if he had truly loved her. Four years passed before she heard of his divorce and the large settlement he had obtained. She assured herself then that she had made the right choice, yet the thought flitted though her dreams that perhaps Alistair had not loved his wife enough because his love for her still burned. Nevertheless, she did not try in any way to contact him, for nothing had really changed.
Sometimes she would stop on the lower steps of the stairs in a flood of sunlight, look up, and thank the window for enlightening her and preventing a grave mistake. Other times, when her mood was as gray as the winter skies and as shrouded in shadows as the stairs, she would stare at the window and fling curses against the panes. Either way when she reached the landing, she would stop and stare out at the pool, for the window was just a window after all.