Chantal watched from a distance as a middle-aged woman and young man faced imminent danger.
“Quick, get up here to the second floor!” The woman shouted from the top of the stairs to the young man below as he nervously held on to the banister and attempted to walk up the flight of stairs.
“I can’t make it mother!”
She tried to encourage him. “Yes you can, you can do this!”
Suddenly, the stairs began to crumble and he lost his balance.
His mother screamed, “Oh my God no!” and collapsed on the floor.
Chantal, petrified, stood by silently in shock.
At that moment, her cell phone alarm beeped and she awakened.
¨My nap was longer than expected,” she told herself.
Then, she took a little black dress from her closet and hurried to the bathroom to take a shower.
That evening she attended a dinner party for her boyfriend Miles, hosted by his mother to welcome him home after his first year away at college. A close family friend joined them. They sat on the terrace adorned with colorful hues of blooming perennial flowers illuminated by an orange glow from the sunset in the summer sky. The ambiance was cheerful as whimsical chatter fused with the classical music playing in the background.
“May I get you anything else madam?” asked Jones the butler.
“Yes, you may serve dessert now,” said Miles’s mother, an ageless attractive woman with a dominant personality.
“Yes madam,” said Jones.
Chantal was a beautiful young woman with dark hair and almond-shaped brown eyes, which matched her caramel colored skin tone and gave her an exotic appeal. Miles was tall, fair, and strikingly handsome. Chantal looked tenderly into his steel-blue eyes while he twirled the curly blond hairs on the nape of his neck.
“Miles are you OK?” asked his mother.
“Why do you ask mother?”
“Well, because you only twirl your hair when you’re nervous about something.”
“I have a lot on my mind,¨ he said.
“Professor Pierce, a distinguished looking middle-aged man and close family friend, turned to Miles and asked, “How did you and Chantal meet?”
“We met in our high school drama club. It was our senior year and we had just auditioned for lead roles cast in the theatrical production of Sons and Lovers, based on the novel written by D. H. Lawrence in 1913.”
“Ava, was there some controversy, and a failed attempt by some parents and religious leaders in the community to ban Sons and Lovers from the school’s library and curriculum?” asked the Professor.
“Yes, but the fool’s errand made the book popular and drove students to it like a magnet,” said Miles’s mother.
“We each earned coveted roles. I played the role of Paul Morel, torn between his love for his mother and the women he loved. Chantal played the role of Miriam Leivers. She was Paul’s first love,” said Miles.
“Chantal, how long have you had an interest in acting?” asked Professor Pierce.
“As long as I can remember, ever since I began acting out the roles of characters from my favorite novels as a small child. Miriam Leivers was my first serious lead role and it was the first time Miles and I performed together,” she said.
“We became close during the rehearsals and started dating when I asked Chantal to our senior prom later that school year,” said Miles.
Moments later, Jones and other members of the household staff surrounded the table and began to sing, “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!”
Miles’s mother, Professor Pierce, and Chantal joined in, “Happy birthday, dear Miles! Happy birthday to you!”
“Thank you all,” said Miles, looking surprised.
“May you have many more Mr. Banks,” said Jones and he placed a miniature birthday cake with a lit blue candle shaped like the number 19 on the table.
Everyone clapped as Miles blew out the lit candle and cut the cake.
“Mother you should not have. My birthday was two weeks ago,” said Miles.
She walked over to him, hugged him, and said, “I know son, but you were away in college and I wanted to celebrate your birthday at home.”
“Miles this is for you,” said Chantal as she gave Miles a birthday gift from her handbag.
He opened the gift box and said, “It’s a sterling silver men’s locket.”
It’s engraved with your name and there’s a picture of us inside from last Christmas,” said Chantal.
“It’s lovely, thank you,” said Miles.
“Very nice,” said Professor Pierce.
Miles’s mother turned to Chantal with what seemed like an insidious look on her face and asked, “Did Miles tell you he’s going to California for the summer?”
“California?” asked Chantal.
His mother eagerly replied, “Yes, he has a summer job in the corporate division of our family’s oil company.”
“Mother please, I can speak for myself,” said Miles. “Chantal, Mother has made arrangements for me to leave tomorrow morning. I will be staying with my uncle Ian.”
“But what about our plans to visit the birth home of D. H. Lawrence in England this summer?” Chantal asked.
Professor Pierce sensed the tension.
“Jones!” the professor called out.
“Yes sir, Professor Pierce,” said Jones.
“Could you please bring me a dry sherry?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” Jones replied.
Chantal was young but she was not provincial. Overwhelmed with Miles’s mother’s recent revelation, she relaxed and deflected embarrassment after learning about Miles’s summer trip from his mother and not from him. Several thoughts crowded her mind at once. Then, she remembered. Miles’s mother had written what he described as a bizarre letter to him when he was away at college. He had asked Chantal to read it when he visited her during spring break.
In the letter, Miles’s mother had written that Chantal was a distraction and she asked him to end his relationship with her. She admonished Miles for getting too seriously involved at a young age and advised him to focus on carrying on his father’s legacy, and the continued success of the family business.
Despite the letter, Chantal had expressed nothing but compassion for Mile’s mother. She explained that his mother was probably just going through an emotional phase of empty nest syndrome, which some parents often experienced when grown children moved away from home and it was probably harder for his mother to cope with because he was an only child. Chantal encouraged him to become more understanding.
That was then. Now she wondered what his mother’s true intentions may have been all along. She wondered if his mother would have negative feelings towards any woman who was romantically involved with Miles. Her thoughts drifted back to the first time she and Miles met and the plot from D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Sons and Lovers, came to mind. Chantal realized the irony that her life now imitated art.
Chantal regained her composure. “Miles, I’m happy for you, and this sounds like a great opportunity,” she said poker faced.
“Thank you, I will learn more about my father’s research. He died there four years ago in a gas explosion,” said Miles.
Looking at Miles his mother said, “I will miss having you around as the man of the house this summer.¨
“I knew your father well. He would be proud that you’re following in his footsteps,” said Professor Pierce.
“Miles has always aspired to become a petroleum engineer like his father and he shall be,” said his mother speaking directly to Chantal.
“Of course and why not?” Chantal replied with a better understanding now of her obsession to control Miles’s life.
“It’s getting dark, let’s go inside to the parlor for tea,” said his mother.
Miles looked at his watch. “It’s late, I better get Chantal home and I still need to pack.”
“OK,” said his mother.
“Mrs. Banks, thank you for inviting me to dinner,” said Chantal.
“Do come again,” said Miles’s mother as she escorted Miles and Chantal to the door.
“Ava, I have to go too,” said Professor Pierce.
“Not you too Claude?” she replied with a disappointed look on her face.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” and he kissed her on the cheek.
She escorted him to the door and said goodnight.
“Chantal, I wanted to leave because we need to talk,” said Miles as they got into the car to drive away.
“OK, I’m listening,” she said.
“Look, I’m sorry but this relationship is not working for me, I’m not happy.”
“Was it something I said or did?”
“No, I care about you but I’m not ready for a serious committed relationship with anyone. We are both too young and we still have our entire lives ahead of us.”
“Is this a cruel joke Miles?”
“No,” he said.
“This doesn’t sound like you. Tell me you don’t mean it and we can get through this.”
Miles replied gently with a firm look on his face, “No, we can’t.”
Chantal realized his mom had influenced him and she surrendered to his wishes. “Well, I guess there really is nothing I can do about it,” she said as tears streamed down her face.”
“Chantal, listen, it will never work. Life is not a fairy tale. Now, you need to focus on starting your first semester of college in the fall.”
“Says who Miles, your mother? I believed your promises and that you loved me.”
“Wait; did you just say my mother?”
“Oh my goodness, yes and you sound just like she did in the letter.”
“What letter?” asked Miles.
“Yes, the letter, did you think I had forgotten about it?”
“How dare you throw up something in my face that I confided in you about?
Chantal quickly apologized, “I’m sorry Miles, but why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” he said.
“I love you Miles and I wish you the best even if we can’t be together.”
“I know that,” said Miles.
There was complete silence during the car ride to Chantal’s home that seemed to last an eternity.
Finally, they arrived at the two-story beach house that Chantal shared with her older sister Sierra who was twenty-six years old. Sierra became Chantal’s legal guardian after their parents died together in a plane crash five years ago.
Miles parked in the driveway, got out of the car, and opened the passenger side door for Chantal.
“Would you like to come in for a few minutes?” she asked.
“No thank you,” he said.
“You’re right, it’s probably for the best,” she replied.
“Chantal, I never meant to hurt you,” said Miles.
“It’s fine. This is happening for me, not to me.”
“Good night Miles,” she said and walked away.
“Good night,” he said.
Miles waited for her to go into the house. Chantal turned around, waved goodbye, and closed the front door. Miles drove off. Chantal walked up the stairs to her bedroom and cried herself to sleep.