ALL I MAY BE OR HAVE BEEN BEFORE
By Atonia and Jo
Jo writing Maximus, Caroline, Bud, Marie, Lachlan, Cort, Daisy, Ben, Mae, Rusty, Holli, Canfield, Melanie
Atonia writing Terry, Dee, Alex, Linda, Jack, Tarwyn, John, Bethany, Max, Sophia, Dino, Anne
“Why does he have to talk so loud?” Max asked Sophie at breakfast.
Johnny Vasari was pacing in and out of the kitchen door. “Put Jenny on. Hey, Jenny baby, look, try and get me an appointment with Clive.” He stopped long enough for a sip of fresh-squeezed orange juice from organic oranges. “No, I’m taking a little break, a vacation, you know….um, down in the islands…whoa, you don’t think I’m gonna tell you which island, do ya? It’s a vacation. Can you get him on the phone?” He lit another cigarette.
Max rolled his eyes. “I wish he was on an island, sans canoe.”
Sophie giggled. “I am so sorry, darling. I don’t know what to do about him. I don’t think he will be here that long.”
“Surely you josh. He’s already been here that long.”
“Are you going to the bank?”
“Yes, I’ve got a designer coming in to work on filling it with furnishings.”
“Will Carlos drive you?”
“No, I’ll take my own car and leave him for you if you need to go out.” Max stood up and gave her a kiss. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”
Walking by Johnny, Max took the cigarette out of his hand and stuck it in his organic orange juice. “We do not smoke in the house,” he said and smiled as he walked toward the side exit.
Rusty liked the men Lowell had hired. They’d had to run past his own final approval but he thought Lowell had made excellent choices. He’d had a wheel chair delivered for Holli because he didn’t want her walking as far as the stables just yet and she was really eager to get out there and see the horses. Now she sat in the chair near the paddock fencing, smiling as she watched her husband put Raja through his paces. He was an excellent horseman and she loved watching him ride. Jasmine came up to the railing and she stood, smoothing her hands down the beautiful mare’s gracefully arched neck.
“Soon, my precious girl, soon. I’ll be riding you again. Just a little longer.” She had to get approval from Dr. Canfield before she was permitted to ride.
The two new men who’d been hired to work with the horses watched Rusty carefully, trying to get a feel for their new boss. Already they were so pleased by the Akhal Tekis that they were very glad they’d hired on. The other four men were out in the orchards, pruning dead branches and clearing out weeds.
Holli turned when she heard her name spoken not far behind her to find Bud walking up toward the paddock.
“Good to see you out and about, Holli,” he smiled, bending to give her a little peck on the cheek. “You look better every day.”
“I am better every day,” she replied, looking at him fondly. She really liked Bud, especially because he was so watchful over Rusty. “You know we’ve hired six new men?”
“I’d heard. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I’d like to get their names so I can run a check on them.”
“Thank you, Bud, for taking such good care of us.”
“Family, Holli. That’s what it’s all about.”
“I don’t know, I kind of like it like it is, Deidre.” Terry stood on the path down to the clearing where the gazebo sat.
Dee studied the path again. She’d thought about putting in some blooming plants along with the hostas and ferns. “I could just stick some pot plants in there for the day.”
Anything to keep from having to dig holes sounded good to Terry. “I like that idea better. Not much sun comes through the trees along here.”
“True…okay, we need a trip to the nursery. I’m thinking hydrangeas and then we can find a place to plant them after the wedding.”
“You want to do that today?”
“Well, the wedding is a week away…the sprinkler system does not run down this way.”
“Oh, I see…you think I’d let them die from lack of water.”
“Pretty sure of it,” he grinned. “I’ve never seen you go farther than the deck with your little watering pot.”
Daisy was also making plans for the wedding, but for the reception. She had all sorts of pretty, colorful, springlike, edible creations in mind to make for it. In the back of her mind she still held onto the idea of a tearoom and the wedding would be the perfect opportunity to practice.
Cort leaned over her shoulder, moving her hair aside so he could kiss her neck.
“Uh huh. For the wedding.”
“Those look good enough to eat.”
“They better,” she smiled.
“What about your tearoom?”
“You remember I mentioned that?”
“I remember everythin’ you say, darlin’. You thought about where exactly you want it?”
“We’re too far up a back road here and besides I wouldn’t want a lot of people coming up here anyway. The land over by the airstrip is flat and there’s a good place near the main road. Caroline’s still interested, too, and Mae’s been investigating products made from alpaca wool. We’d like a sort of combo tearoom-little shops sort of place. Nice patio to eat outside as well as a very Victorian one inside.”
“Do it,” he smiled.
“Sure, darlin’. Sketch out what you have in mind an’ we’ll get an architect goin’ on right away.”
“I love you.”
“I know,” he grinned and kissed her neck again.
Johnny Vasari followed Sophie out onto the veranda. “How did you get tied up with a stuffy old banker?”
“He is not a stuffy old… you don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Who is he, anyway?”
“He is my husband.”
“No, I mean who is he, where’s he from? He’s English, I got that.”
“Yes, he is English. He is from London. We were married in London.”
“Is he anybody? His family have any royal ties?”
“Johnny, he is enough for me and who he is does not matter to you. There is nothing in him, about him or related to him that will ever do you any good…so forget it.”
“I keep thinking I’ve seen him somewhere before. Something about him is familiar but I can’t put my finger on it. It’ll come to me.”
“He lives in a…pink…house? Maximus?” Lucilla’s eyes widened considerably as George parked.
“Do you think his masculinity is damaged by that?”
She pressed her lips together a moment before answering. “Nothing can damage his masculinity but…I would not do that to him, make him live in a pink house.”
“It was Caroline’s house before she met him. He chooses freely to live in it.”
Caroline was in maternity tops now and she came to the door to greet them. “Dr. Canfield…though I’m going to call you George today since this is a purely social visit.” She looked at the tall woman at his side. “Lucilla, welcome. The General is just finishing brushing Marcus on the back porch.”
“Our dog. He was named before Maximus came so there’s no connection. Pure coincidence.”
As Caroline led them through the house, George pointed out the fact that all the paintings had been done by her.
“You’re very good, Caroline,” Lucilla commented, truly meaning it.
“I hear you sculpt. I’m looking forward to seeing your work, Lucilla. I’d like to have a piece here so Maximus would have something created by his sister.”
Ah, there it was…spoken out. Sister. Lucilla studied Caroline, looking for some sign of discomfort in her but found none. Her eyes were open, honest, her expression genuine.
“He’s just out here.” Caroline opened the back door. “Darling, Lucilla and George are here.”
“Ah, good!” He stood, giving Marcus a last pat, set the brush aside and smiled at them.
Good God, the man was handsome. The thing that had always caught in Lucilla’s gut at the sight of him, caught there again.
“Maximus,” she said, drawing out the final ‘s’ just a little.
“Sister,” he replied, inclining his head. As he came inside he said, “I would wish to wash my hands before greeting you. Marcus had rolled in the dirt.”
Lucilla looked down at the dog, who kept right at Maximus’ side. “He’s big.”
“His heart is larger than his body,” Maximus smiled. “He greatly aided in bringing me back to myself.”
“I sense a story there you must tell me.”
“In a moment. Washing first.” He disappeared into the bathroom.
The dog might be big but the house certainly wasn’t. “Where will you put the baby?” Lucilla asked Caroline.
“We’re adding on, both a nursery and an expansion of my studio so there’ll be room for a play area.”
Tarwyn couldn’t fasten her jeans. She inhaled and then tried again. “Well, so much for that.” She rummaged in a drawer and came up with a pair of knit lounging pants. Standing sideways in front of the mirror in her panties she rubbed her stomach. There was only a slight thickening of her waist. “I’m going to be enormous,” she sighed.
Downstairs she found Jack in his room. “Jack will you still find me attractive when I’m fat, really fat?”
“Of course I will. I would find you attractive no matter what you looked like. You have a glow from within.”
She smiled, came over to him and hugged his neck. “You’re so sweet. What are you doing, writing music?”
“Ah, I’m working on a variation of Boccherini. Dee has asked me to play at her wedding. I told her that I am not a soloist.”
“You should look up the musicians that played at our wedding. In fact, I’m surprised you haven’t contacted them, Jack.”
“They are professionals and I am sure they would not appreciate my efforts.”
“Oh, pooh, you are good. Call ‘em and ask.”
Jack sighed and looked up at her.
“I know… you miss Stephen. I’m sorry, Jack.”
He shook his head and picked up his violin and began to play. Tarwyn sat down on the sofa and watched his face as he played. He was in another place, so taken by the sounds he made. She closed her eyes too and after a while she opened them.
“Why did you stop?”
He smiled, “I came to the end.”
“So you had Marcus before you met Maximus?” Lucilla asked.
“Yes, my husband bought him for me as a puppy before he went off to Iraq.”
“Yes, I was married for a little while to a military man. He was killed in the war and so it was just Marcus and me. We moved out here from the city.”
“It is very far for a woman alone.”
“I wasn’t alone,” Caroline smiled. “I had Marcus. Besides I liked the quiet for my painting and I’m a gardener, too. It all came together in this house, which I painted pink with green trim to look like a flower in the midst of my gardens.”
“It’s very…pink,” Lucilla remarked just as Maximus came out of the bathroom.
“It is,” he smiled. “I am very fond of it not only because my beautiful wife chose it but because it is somehow like living in the heart of her.” He sat on the wide arm of the chair Caroline was in, sliding an arm around her shoulders and kissing her hair.
He’s making a statement he wishes me to take note of, Lucilla thought. She couldn’t help studying him, though. If anything he was handsomer than when she’d last seen him. She decided part of it was because he was happy and content and it glowed from inside him whereas when she’d last seen him he was a slave and not at all happy.
“You are looking well, Maximus,” she commented.
“As are you, Lucilla. You are managing well in this modern world?”
“I’ve had 2 ½ years to adjust to it. I know my way around in it fairly well by now. Tell me what you meant about the dog helping bring you back to yourself.”
“You wish the long or the short version?”
“I’d like to hear it all, if you don’t mind.”
So he told her much of what had happened to him from the time Sid took him from the tunnel toward the end of Gladiator. He told her much, but not all.
“You believed you were still in Rome?”
“It was not hard, Lucilla, to believe so. Sid had carefully arranged things and how was I even to suspect such a thing as being taken from a movie into this present world? It was not a thing that would spring naturally to my mind.”
“No, I can see it wouldn’t. But I have a hard time imagining you on a South Pacific island.”
“It was not a time I would ever wish to repeat.”
Lucilla looked at Caroline. “So you found him in the fog sitting against a tree. How very strange.”
“It was strange,” Caroline smiled, tipping her chin to look adoringly up at her husband. “He had been terribly wounded in his soul but Marcus managed to get in there with him and lead him out.”
“A guide dog, indeed,” Maximus nodded. “So you see he is very important to me. He also found me last autumn when I was trapped in a mud flow during a hurricane.”
“You’ve faced much danger since leaving the film, Maximus, possibly as much or more than in the film.”
“It has often been very dangerous, yes, but it has also been filled with wonder and with love. It is a good life. And you, Lucilla, you are happy with the life you have made in the city?”
“I was often lonely,” she said softly, then smiling as George took her hand and pulled it over onto his leg, “but not so much now.”
Dee answered the door. “Alex, Terry just left a few minutes ago.”
“Yes, I know. He stopped by and…well, here I am.”
Dee’s mouth dropped open. “He thinks I can’t look after myself for a few hours?”
“Far be it from me to know what Terry thinks. Can I come in or do I have to sit on the doorstep until he comes back?”
Dee stepped back and let him in. “I can’t believe he’d send you up here to babysit me!”
“To tell the truth, he said keep an eye out so…”
“Want a glass of iced tea?”
“Sure.” He followed her over to the kitchen and hung on the island. “Are you all ready to get married?”
“Just about. Terry tells me you’re seriously writing now.”
“Ah, yeah, I’ve about come to the end of my story. Rescue ship appears off the shore of Dover.”
“I’d like to read it sometime.”
“It’s kinda rough right now.”
“What’s up with you?” Dee leaned on the other side of the island and pushed his tea across.
Alex rolled his eyes. “Ah, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think you know. Are you all happy and content down there in your house alone?”
“I’m happy in my house.”
“Not going to talk to me, are you?”
“Wha…what is it…oh, Dee…sometimes I don’t know, I just don’t know.”
“You still have feelings for her, don’t you?”
He licked his lips. “Yes, I do but they’re a tangled mess. I don’t know where to go with it or how to sort it all out.”
“Have you talked to her at all?”
“No…I mean, where would I start?”
“You’re a man of words…you’ve written a book so…find some for yourself.”
“Ah, not that easy.” He looked up at her. “There’s a big chasm between us…’bout as wide as the Grand Canyon.”
“One step at a time, that’s how you get there.”
“Has she said anything to you?”
“Not a word. You know how she is, she buries everything that hurts. Digs fast and deep.”
“So, I’m buried…deep?”
“Probably. You, on the other hand, toss everything into the bottom of your closet.”
“You’ve been in my house?”
Dee chuckled, “I’m not talking about your actual closet. You know what I’m talking about, Alex.”
He looked up at the ceiling a moment, took a drink from his glass and winked at her. “Sure you want to marry that Aussie on Sunday?”
“I’m sure…but if I change my mind…I’ll give you a call.”
“I’m looking forward to the wedding, Ben,” Mae commented as she cut circles of buttermilk biscuits from the fresh dough. “Seems like a long time since we were all together as a big family.”
“You like that, don’t you?”
“I do like it. It’s so different from how I grew up, everybody willing everybody else’s good, happy when the others are happy. I like that a lot.”
“Different from how I growed, too.”
“Have you gotten used to it yet, Ben, the huge family thing?”
“I’m getting’ there. Seems like lately all we done seen is the one’s livin’ out this way. Ain’t been in the city none for a while.”
“I hear Terry and Dee have a wonderful new house.”
“I’d like to get an early start Sunday if you don’t mind, darlin’, so’s we can stop by an’ see Rusty’s place an’ them there shiny horses of his. Cort saw ‘em an’ said they was just as good as we done heard they was. I got to see that for myself, you know.”
“Sounds good to me. We can make a whole day of it.”
Dino turned over on the sofa, dropping a sofa pillow onto the floor. It was naptime and the TV, turned to a sports channel, was the perfect background music to his ears. He had a day off, a well-deserved one, and he was doing absolutely nothing.
Anne was at the dining table working on a bag. She was hand sewing beads in an intricate design. She stopped and rubbed her neck, moving her shoulders around. She’d been at it for hours, aside from making sandwiches for lunch. Leaving her work for a moment, she passed the sofa and glanced down at Dino, then on to the glass doors that led out onto the small patio. She walked and stopped, looking out at the green space between the buildings. She could see the sparkle of the pool that was being readied to open the first of May. She closed her eyes and thought about the walk she’d taken at Ashgrove and the little hill she’d found. Nothing but the sounds of nature around her, birds and…she turned toward the TV and sighed. Why did they have to shout? How could he sleep through such noise? That was the problem with this world she’d come to. Noise, noise, noise.
Together, Maximus and Caroline, George and Lucilla, drove over to Cort’s. Maximus thought it important she get to know all the family. She liked the look of the big Victorian house as they pulled up in front of it.
“You met Cort briefly at the hospital,” Maximus pointed out before they left the station wagon, “and Lachlan, too. Daisy is Cort’s wife and Welland is Lachlan’s son. The two of them moved in here after Welland’s mother died in childbirth.”
“She was Cort’s daughter, you say? That was a very strange story, Maximus, about how she grew.”
“All of our stories are strange, Sister,” he smiled, “are they not?”
“I guess so.” She looked at George beside her. “Except yours, George. You are the only non-strange one among us.”
“Oh, I have my moments,” he grinned. He was trying hard today to concentrate on being with Lucilla, with not letting his brain wander off to the lab or to the special room he was having fitted up on 6.
They were having lunch at Cort’s and Ben and Mae were already there. Outlaw was glad to see his buddy Marcus and the two of them chased each other happily around the big yard for a while.
“You’re the famous outlaw?” Lucilla greeted Ben.
“Well, Ma’am, that’d be my dog there. He’s Outlaw.”
“But not so famous, I suspect, as you?”
“We’re workin’ on it,” he grinned. “I’d like you to meet my wife, Mae Wade. She done me the honor of consentin’ to be my bride just recently.”
Mae had watched Gladiator numerous times and she felt a little intimidated by the presence of the Emperor’s daughter, though she was trying not to show it. Stifling the urge to curtsy, she smiled at Lucilla. “I can’t believe Sid took you out, too.”
“Yes, all we need now is Commodus,” Lucilla replied.
“We have no need of him,” Maximus quickly growled.
“I’m rather surprised Sid didn’t bring him out just to torment us,” Cort added.
Lucilla hadn’t really had a chance to pay much attention to Cort at the hospital, but now she looked at him with great interest. From the way Maximus had talked about him, it was obvious the General held him in special esteem. “So you went all the way through Gladiator, I hear.”
“I did,” he nodded. “I saw just about everythin’ that happened as it happened, even when Maximus was in Spain. Most of it was very hard to watch.”
“You did more than watch, Cort,” Maximus smiled fondly at him. “He was in the arena with me in Zucchabar, Sister.”
“And you are a cowboy?”
“I am again, yes. For a while I was a bank robber like Ben here.”
“And you became a priest?”
“I needed to, yes.”
“But now you’re married?”
Cort slid his arm around Daisy, who was standing beside him. “I’ve been blessed that way.”
John was sitting in his recliner watching Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. Beth was in and out of the living room and finally sat down on the sofa and curled her legs up. “Is this a sailing lesson, John?”
He grinned, “It’s been awhile since I watched this. I figured I’d better have another look and see what I’m in for. Of course the Belladore isn’t a frigate. It’s a smaller ship, less complicated.”
“And modernized. Still…you’ve got that Captain to contend with.”
“Yeah, but we’re not at war and he’s no longer in the Royal Navy. Well, I say that but…he probably is, probably always will be. I’m looking at it as an adventure.”
“Oh, I’m sure it will be an adventure for you. Just stay out of trouble and avoid the flogging.”
John laughed, “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m looking forward to it, Bethany. Be nice to…have something to do.”
Beth bit her lip. “Something will come up for you, John. I know it will.”
“Are you coming to Terry and Dee’s wedding, Lucilla?” Daisy asked.
“Yes, George is taking me. My head is spinning trying to keep all these brothers straight.”
“It’s like that at first for all of us,” Daisy nodded, but something like the wedding will be a great way for you to get used to them.
“You’re from Arizona?”
“Yes, a desert rat, but Cort brought me into the green and I love it here. Like Caroline, I’m a gardener at heart.”
“Mel…Lucilla, has the most appealing cottage,” George spoke up, “and it has gardens around it, roses over an entrance arch.”
“Small gardens, small yard,” she added. “But my workroom is out back and that’s actually the most important part of the place for me. It’s nice you have your studio inside the house, Caroline. Are you coming to the reopening of Linda’s gallery Friday evening?”
“Yes, we are.”
“Ah, both of you, then?”
“Yes, both of us. Maximus doesn’t want me doing that drive back out here after dark.”
“He’s very…protective,” Lucilla observed.
“I have much to protect, Sister, and good reason to do so.” He put a hand on Caroline’s shoulder. “My wife and daughter mean everything to me.”
She understood his message, but it was hard. Just being in the same room with him made her flesh tingle. Damn her father anyway for messing around with his mother. It was much better when he was just a soldier, not a brother.