The following is the twenty-first of a series of excerpts from The Rowan Tree: A Novel by Robert W. Fuller. The complete novel is available for Kindle and other ebook formats. The print edition can be ordered from Amazon or get the audiobook at Amazon, iTunes, and audible.com. If you enjoy The Rowan Tree, please write a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your own blog! The author also welcomes your comments. Enter the Goodreads Giveaway to win a free paperback copy of The Rowan Tree!
François was due in from Dakar late that afternoon, and Marisol skipped class so they could spend their last day alone at home. After a quick trip to the market for supplies, they cleaned house and sat down to take stock.
“The talk on Somalia…I can’t get it out of my head,” Adam began. “I want to do something like that.”
“What are your friends planning to do after graduation?”
“Make as much money as possible.”
“No one goes into dance for the money,” Marisol said. “We’re barely paid enough to live in the City.”
“But you’ve got purpose…passion. When did you know that you wanted to be a dancer?”
“I can’t remember not thinking that ballet would be my life. I mean, I know it’s not going to save the world but it does give people pleasure. There’s a tradition in ballet that takes hold of you and makes you feel part of something larger.”
“You’re lucky. I wish I had a calling like that.”
“Isn’t basketball like that?”
“No, not for me. Putting a ball through a hoop is a distraction. I want to do something that matters. I won’t find that on a basketball court.”
“Are you thinking of quitting the team?”
“No, but it just doesn’t seem important anymore.” Adam stopped, then, with a grin, added, “Maybe I’ll become a dancer.”
He reached for her and gently pulled her down on top of him. With their heads together, her toes reached just below his knees. Placing his hands on her hips, he lifted her above him. She had the abdominal strength to hold herself like a barbell.
“You’re about half what I bench press,” he said. After he raised and lowered her a few times, he brought her down very slowly to the point where her lips were just inches above his. With her hair hanging around him in a rosy canopy, he lowered her until there was no space between them.
The sound of a key in the front door made them snap to attention. By the time François came into the room, they were seated at opposite ends of the couch. He was in his late fifties and of medium height and sturdy build. His dark, keen eyes accentuated a relaxed, intelligent face. Adam and Marisol went to meet him as he set down his bags and took off his overcoat. He shook hands with Adam, patting him on the back, and gave Marisol a welcoming smile. “Please introduce me to your lovely friend, Adam.”
“This is Marisol Ellway. She’s a dancer in the New York City Ballet. You won’t believe this, Dad, but her father once held the same job that Mom has now.”
Quite abruptly, François excused himself and withdrew to his study.
“He must be tired,” Adam said. “He’s usually very sociable. You’ll see.”
Minutes later, François called out, “Adam, would you please come in here for a moment?”
Marisol waited in the living room. She could make out the sounds of French coming from the study, and though she couldn’t understand a word, she could tell that the conversation was intense. After ten minutes, her agitation was turning to fear mixed with anger. She was putting on her coat to go out when François came back to the living room and asked her to join them in the study. Adam was standing off to one side of the room looking out the window. He turned to face her but stayed where he was. François asked her to sit on the couch.
Adam looked ashen. With a feeling of dread mitigated only by mounting curiosity, Marisol asked, “What’s the matter?”
“First, let me apologize for keeping you waiting. As you can see, something has come up. But to answer your question, nothing is the matter, with you, I mean,” François said. “And nothing is the matter with Adam either. Something is the matter with me. Let me tell you what I’ve said to Adam.”
“Please,” Marisol said. She held out her hand to Adam to invite him to come sit beside her, but he didn’t budge.
“Twenty years ago when I met Adam’s mother in Dakar, she was carrying a child. I am not Adam’s natural father. He was conceived in a relationship with your father while Adam’s mother was a student at Jefferson.”
Silence fell on the room. Marisol looked at François, then at Adam.
“Adam, did you know this?”
“Of course not! Are you kidding? For God’s sake!”
“But it can’t be true! If it were, how come my father doesn’t know? He’d have told me. I’m sure he doesn’t know.”
“That’s right, he doesn’t know,” François said. “Until now, no one has known, apart from Easter and myself.”
“Oh, my God,” Marisol said, her voice falling.
“Adam tells me that you’ve known each other since Christmas. I’m very sorry for putting you through this. We never imagined that you’d meet.”
“My dad is seeing his mom, what did you expect?”
“I didn’t know.” If François was upset by Marisol’s revelation, he didn’t let on.
An urge to scream battled Marisol’s need to weep. She looked to Adam for help, but his face had become a mask.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” François said to Adam. “We can talk more about this later, but right now I should tell Easter what’s happened.” François got up to go. When he reached the door he turned and faced the couple.
“There’s one more thing. I told Adam this and I want you to know too. From the very beginning, I’ve known the truth about Adam’s paternity. I chose to accept him as my son and I will continue to do so as long as I live. He will inherit the family property. I realize this revelation is going to affect you both, but it does not affect my relationship with Adam. I have loved him as my son from the start and nothing will ever change that.”
Without waiting for a response, he left the library, closing the door behind him. They heard his feet on the stairs as he headed for his bedroom to call Easter.
Adam busied himself with dinner while Marisol set the table. They weren’t ready to talk, and both were thankful for the mindless routine. Within a half-hour, François returned to the kitchen where the cassoulet Adam had made that morning was warming in the oven.
“It’s ready,” Adam said glumly.
“Let’s sit down then,” François said. He pulled out Marisol’s chair and seated her, gestured for Adam to sit opposite, and took his usual place at the head of the table. Adam set the dish he’d prepared on a ceramic trivet and took his seat.
“Easter and I have spoken,” François said. “She’s informing Rowan now. Before you were born, Adam, Easter and I agreed that this would be our secret, and ours alone, and that to keep it she would have to break off contact with Rowan.”
“But she’s been seeing him for over a year,” Marisol insisted.
François, who was about to serve the cassoulet, set the ladle on the table. A pensive look came over his face, but after a moment, he said, “Since we’ve separated, that is perhaps understandable. Nonetheless, she has kept her promise regarding Adam.”
“I’m not hungry,” Adam said. He pushed back his chair and left the room. They heard the front door slam.
“I think he needs to be alone,” Marisol said apologetically.
“I quite understand,” François said. “This gives us a chance to talk.”
“First, explain one thing: Why did Easter agree to all this in the first place? It’s not like my dad to shirk responsibility. I think he’s always loved her.”
“You’ll want to ask her about this, but as I understand it, when she realized she was pregnant, she tried to reach Rowan from Dakar but could not. She was about your age at the time and dreaded single-motherhood. I’d met her on a prior trip to Dakar, and when she returned that summer and found herself in trouble and alone, she turned to me in distress. Within a few weeks, I proposed.”
“But why did you keep it all a secret?” Marisol pressed.
“To insure Adam’s patrimony. If my parents had realized that he was not of their blood, they’d have left their property to me on the condition that it revert to the African branch of the family when I died. Easter and I felt that it was wrong to put Adam in the position of keeping the truth from his grandparents, and I always planned to tell him when his grandmother passed away. I just haven’t…didn’t yet …”
Marisol’s mind had begun to wander. “I wonder how my father will react,” she murmured.
“When Adam returns to the States I’m going to accompany him and introduce him to Rowan, assuming your father will receive me.”
“He’ll handle it,” Marisol said distractedly. “But do you realize what a position this puts me in?”
“Yes, I think I do, and I’m very sorry. As I said, you and Adam are blameless. Your relationship is innocent, and surely everyone will understand that.” He then got up. The cassoulet remained untouched. “Twenty years ago, when Easter and I chose this course, we thought we were doing the right thing. Tonight, it all looks different. I hope that someday you’ll be able to forgive me. I’m going upstairs now. We all need time to let this sink in.”
Marisol was in bed when she heard Adam’s knock on her door. She called out to him, and when he opened it, sat up. Adam took a seat on the bed.
“Sorry to take off like that, but I had to be alone.”
“I don’t want to be alone,” Marisol said. She had been crying.
Adam began, “I’m so mad at my mom and dad. Not only have they deceived me my whole life, I’m beginning to wonder if my mom ever really loved my dad, or if she deceived him too.”
“Why do you think that?”
“The first chance she gets she goes back to Rowan. Plus, she’s been keeping my dad in the dark about it.”
“Well, they’re divorced, aren’t they? She shouldn’t have to keep her ex up to date on her personal life.”
“What does she see in your dad, anyway?”
“You’ll have to ask her, but this I know—Easter is the love of his life. When you get to know Rowan as I do, I think you’ll understand your mother better too.”
“What about your mother? Did Rowan love her too? At the same time?”
“Not while I was in the picture. We never lived as a family.”
“Well, I really don’t want to meet him, not now anyway.”
“When you’re ready, you’ll see that he’s all right. I doubt he’ll lose his cool, even over this. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow when I get home. François told me that he’s going to come over and introduce you.”
“I don’t want another father.”
“My dad’s not going to force himself on you.”
“You mean our dad,” Adam said, “which brings us to the big question: How are we going to handle us?”
“I wish we’d left yesterday. We should have kept our relationship to ourselves.”
“I’d have told my mom about you, so it just would have come out then.”
“I know, but I think we’re meant for each other.”
“I thought so too. I still think so, but maybe in a different way.”
“So what should we do?”
“From the moment we met you seemed like my best friend. We have to keep that.”
They were still for a while.
“Adam, there’s something I’ve been wondering, ever since Princeton.”
“Why didn’t you make love to me in your room on New Year’s Eve?”
“You really want to know?”
“There’d been other girls in that bed. My first year on the basketball team…well, you know.”
“You don’t have to explain. It’s the same in the dance world. But answer my question.”
“With you it was different.”
“What about this house? You must have brought tons of girls here.”
“No, you’re the only one.”
Through tears, Marisol looked up at Adam and said, “You never told me what you called the third photo at the fountain.”
“It was presumptuous.”
“I called it ‘My Other Half.’”