It had been 50 years since Nick used to see Dominique. At the time he was living on a small ranch just up the street. Dominique’s family used to stable their horses at his parent’s place.
Dominique’s family had a sprawling estate on gently slopping grounds, with orchards, gardens, and a stream–leading down to the shore. The property was bounded on either side by wild ravines, with a lake forming the other boundary. A triangular plot, like a gated garden, but with natural barriers walling or fencing them in.
The property was long-since abandoned. The orchards and gardens a thicket. The ruins of the white stone house overgrown with vines from the neglected grape arbor. The woods tenaciously reclaiming the boathouse, bathhouse, greenhouse, gazebo. The swimming pool caked with dead leaves. The weedy tennis court. Squirrels nesting in the chimenea.
Nick had returned for the funeral. Her funeral. Afterwards he went back to the old estate for a final good-bye.
This was the second funeral he’d attended for her family. The first was for her brother Albert, who died of TB in his teens. Dominique never got over his death. When she inherited the estate, she couldn’t bring herself to either live there or sell it. The physical association was both unbreakable and unbearable. So it fell into a state of decay. A cemetery for a lost brother. For a lost childhood. For a lost future.
Nick met Debbie in junior high, just up the hill–on the summit. Dominique attended private school. Debbie was more down-to-earth than Dominique. A middle-class girl who lived in a rambler over on the next hill. Nick would often walk her home after school–then double back to his own house. Sometimes he’d pick up her kid brother at the neighboring grade school, a few blocks away, and walk him home–if she was busy with her figure skating.
Debbie was everything Nick was not. So sweet, gentle, feminine. Features like fine china. And just the right size. When he held her close, her contours fit snuggly into his contours. A perfect matching pair.
So Nick was torn between two girls. Dominique was unobtainable. Indeed, that was part of her charm. It wasn’t social class that kept them apart. In a way, Dominique loved Nick more fiercely than he loved her. He loved her, but he also loved Debbie–whereas she only had a heart for Nick.
He could have been happy with either girl, though happier with Debbie. Debbie was steady.
Yet she remained aloof. By turns affectionate and distant, passionate and diffident. He couldn’t figure her out. Was she just a tease?
She hurt him deeply when he found out that she was having an affair with Jeff, his best friend from high school. They were football teammates in junior high and high school. Nick trusted Jeff implicitly, which turned out to be a mistake. Yet he couldn’t quite blame Jeff for responding to Dominique’s advances. What guy in his right mind wouldn’t jump at the opportunity?
No, he blamed Dominique. Not so much out of anger, but puzzlement. If she loved him wholeheartedly, why didn’t she give herself to him? He was available for the asking.
Mind you, that would force him to choose between Debbie and Dominique. And in hindsight, who’s to say how that would have turned out? Each fork in the road might be equally fulfilling in its own way. The road not taken might be just as good, in a different way. But he could only make a life with one woman.
Dominique knew about Debbie, and Debbie knew about Dominique. When he was with one, he’d sometimes mention the other. He hadn’t made up his mind. Still testing the waters.
Dominique confided to Jeff, who confided to Nick. Dominique loved Nick too much to marry him.
The funeral for Albert had been a grim affair. Not just because it was a funeral. Not just because it was for her only brother. But because it was so hopeless. Dominique’s mother and dad were irreligious. This life was it. When you died, that was the end.
She could never again invest her heart in a man. For she couldn’t bear to bring herself to give herself to what she’d someday give away in death. To lose herself in what she couldn’t keep.
Beginning with Jeff, she carried on affairs with other men. When she felt she was becoming attached to a man, she broke it off and started anew with a stranger. The less she gave, the less she had to lose.
She and Nick continued to correspond all their lives, until she become too ill to write. She traveled the world, never putting down roots–for fear of being uprooted.
She willed the estate to Nick and Debbie, with the proviso that she be buried there, beside her brother Albert.