“Thanks Auntie Jo,” said Mary Lou giving her brevet aunt a hug. “You’re welcome Mary Lou,” answered Joey Maynard, holding the girl close to her.
“I do think you’re being awfully brave and I’m proud of you.”
Mary Lou hid her annoyance at Joey’s words, knowing Joey meant well, but also knowing full well Joey Maynard couldn’t possibly understand what it was like.
“Thanks Aunt Joey,” she said pulling away. “Well, we better be off, it’s a bit of a journey back and I would like to get Mother comfortable.”
“Okay then. Are you sure you don’t want Jack to drive you to Basle at least?” Offered Joey. Mary Lou shook her head, “No thanks, though it is awfully nice of Uncle Jack to offer.” Mary Lou hurried off and joined Verity and her Mother in the carriage.
“Bad?” Asked Verity with a sympathetic smile.
Mary Lou sighed and shook her head. “It’s not too bad I guess and I know she means well, it’s just, it’s just she doesn’t understand. She can’t possibly know what it’s like. I’m sorry Verity, I know she’s been giving you little digs all along.”
Verity smiled again, slightly ruefully this time, “she wasn’t the only one. I don’t think Len, Con or Margot have much of an idea either.”
“I know,” said Mary Lou with a sigh, “and I did try to explain to Len, but in all honesty I don’t know if she understood or ever will.”
The two girls shared a look which spoke of the closeness of their relationship, which was a mixture friendship and family. Mary Lou turned to look at her Mother who was already dozing on the comfortable, makeshift bed her two daughters had made for her. Mary Lou gave her a soft look and felt a deep wave of thankfulness that Verity understood and wasn’t offended because she didn’t want to leave her Mother alone.
Mary Lou’s thoughts wandered back to the conversation she had with Len.
“I don’t understand Mary Lou,” said Len, “I really don’t. Why can’t Verity look after Auntie Doris? It’s not fair that you have to give up all you’ve worked for, dreamed about, simply because Verity is too moony to take charge.”
Mary Lou gave a sigh of impatience. She just doesn’t understand what it’s like she reminded herself and sighed again, only this one was more of weariness. She had already had this discussion with Aunt Joey and she was very well aware that Aunt Joey had discussed with Verity about her perceived selfishness. Thank goodness Verity was such a good friend, as well as sister, because really, Aunt Joey was becoming too much, so much so Mary Lou nearly felt like losing her temper, something she rarely felt like doing. Instead she was sitting on the grassy bank with Len overlooking the Jungfrau. Con and Verity were sitting further on, discussing poetry and music of all things, while Ruey and Margot had decided to walk further on.
“Len,” said Mary Lou at last, “it’s not because Verity is too moony to take care of Mother. She could. Verity adores Mother and has said she would be more than happy to live with her. I could see Mother being very happy with her too.”
“Then what’s the problem?” questioned Len bewildered. “If that happened, then you could still have your career and know Auntie Doris will be okay.”
Mary Lou turned to look at Len; out of all the triplets, Len was the one she identified with; both of them had had huge responsibilities placed on them and it was for that reason Mary Lou had said what she did a year ago. She knew firsthand what it was like to be responsible for a sister, who was the same age, -and what it was like to resent them for it. Mary Lou gazed in Verity’s direction. The two of them had become so much closer since Roland’s death. They had finally talked about so many things to do with their Fathers’ going to the Amazon jungle when they were both only two. Mary Lou turned back to Len, what Verity seemed to understand almost instinctively, Len was struggling to.
“Len,” she began quietly, “Mother and Verity are my own family, and they are all I have left. It would be different if Dad was alive, because Mother would have her own life with him and it wouldn’t be right to hang around. Kids need to leave the nest so to speak and it would give Mother and Dad a chance to have their time alone without us around. Now it means Mother will be alone, and so it’s different.”
Mary Lou took a deep breath, what she was about to say was deeply personal and something which she had told few people and she wondered if Len would even understand.
“Len, my Father left his family when I was two and he was gone eight years before we knew he was never coming back. I saw what it did to Mother and Gran; I saw how much they missed him and how they grieved when he didn’t return. I know he was a hero and he died for his friends, but a part of me is angry he didn’t want to live with us, his family. Why did he leave me when I was two, weren’t we good enough for him, didn’t he want to know me? I understand, that was his job, but I saw what it did to Mother. She missed him every day of her life, and I won’t do that. I will not be like my Father and put my Mother through that kind of grief and loneliness, not when she’s alone, not now.”
“But your Mother would have Verity, wouldn’t she?” Asked Len slowly.
“It’s not the same,” said Mary Lou simply, “I know Mother loves Verity and Verity adores her. She was the first adult who cared about Verity for her own sake and who didn’t leave her either through work or dying. But it’s not the same. It would be like you and Ruey as much as Aunt Joey loves Ruey and see’s her as family, you’re her daughter, her own flesh and blood and she has loved you, knowing you were her own, not someone else’s for a few years before they became their own. And anyway, I want to be with my mother, regardless.”
“I see,” said Len slowly. “I never thought of it like that. All I could think of is how much I would hate to give up my own dreams for Oxford and to be a teacher, especially if it’s because my sister wouldn’t share the responsibility so to speak.”
Mary Lou gave Len a curious look, as Len went red. “You still feel burdened don’t you,” she said.
Len nodded. “I know how much my parents need me and the younger ones. I may have stopped looking after Margot and Con, but that doesn’t mean I get to stop with the rest of them.”
It was Len’s turn to take a deep breath, “Mike went down the cliff last summer and yes we got him back, but then Mamma fainted and Papa was so angry and wouldn’t talk to him for the next few days. Everyone looked to me and I had to take care of Mike as well. It didn’t matter what you and Auntie Hilda had said, I still had to be responsible for family. It wasn’t going to end, just because the two of you said I shouldn’t. I did talk to Papa about it, especially when he said we three should help out more, and he understood and made sure it shared between the three of us, but there is still that expectation of me. At least Oxford means I will be away from all of this and I am free of all that expectation, that’ll I’ll always help, always be responsible. At least there I can be me, find out who I really am; not just be the responsible triplet.”
“I’m sorry Len, I had no idea you really felt like that,” said Mary Lou giving Len a long look. “I’m sorry it’s like that for you. It’s a lot easier to say you shouldn’t be responsible like that but much harder to do. I can see why going to Oxford would make the break from it so much easier.”
“I just feel bad for you Mary Lou,” said Len softly, “you were really looking forward to Oxford and being an archaeologist.”
“I’ll still have Oxford,” said Mary Lou with a faint grin, “and I’ll work as a curator for a museum. It won’t be all bad and there are compensations. Now we should head back, before our respective mothers’ send out a search party.”
The conversation had ended there, but Len did start to show some understanding, Auntie Joey couldn’t seem to at all, she didn’t seem to understand that for Mary Lou, there were some things more important than a career; and families, for Mary Lou was one of them.