I could sense something was off in the house the moment I walked in. The emotional vibe just wasn’t right.
My suspicions are confirmed when I see Elizabeth keeping watch by the patio, where Jack and Mom appear to be in deep conversation.
“Mom, Grandma’s been crying, and she won’t tell us why.”
Mrs. Grace, our household manager, comes in from the dining room. “What’s going on?” I ask, nodding toward the patio.
“I believe it has something to do with Counsel Pujli,” she says softly.
Oh, gods. “Something happen to him?”
She shakes her head. “I believe he’s done something, though I don’t know what.”
Well, from the look on Jack’s face, I suspect something will happen to Pudge very soon. “Elizabeth, why don’t you go to the family room … I think Mrs. Grace can round up some cookies. I’m going to talk with Dad and Grandma.”
Neither Jack nor Mom seems surprised to see me. Mom’s obviously still upset, though, so I sit down next to her and take her hand. “Want to tell me what’s going on?”
“Well,” Jack says, “it seems that First Minister Borglund thinks Pujli should take a wife.”
I look over at Mom, who’s shaking her head. “No, not me. The widow of the Second Minister.”
I look back at Jack. “And why should the First Minister care if Pujli remarries? Especially since Pujli’s first wife tried to overthrow him?”
“That part I’m a bit fuzzy on,” Jack admits. “Apparently he considers it a personal favor. And since Pujli serves here at Borglund’s pleasure … refusing could get him recalled.”
“And I’ve told Pujli,” Mom continues, “that while I’m well aware of Briori’s attitude toward marriage, I’m not willing to be the other woman in this scenario.”
She shakes her head. “It’s ironic. Since my contract at IU is ending, I was considering selling my apartment in Bloomington and finding a place out here. UC-Berkeley is offering me first and second-semester seminars on a three-year contract.”
Jack and I share a quick look. Neither of us had any inkling. “You mention this to Phoebe?” I ask.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” she said, without elaborating. Apparently, I need to call my sister.
“Well, I’m going to be nosy and ask if you two have ever considered …”
“Marriage?” she finishes for me. “He has … I’ve turned him down.”
Well, this is a day of surprises. “Wait a minute,” Jack says, “he’s actually proposed?”
“Not formally. He’s brought up the subject a couple of times. I’ve told him that I’m too old to be taking on the consulate’s social obligations. And I don’t think Sanda would appreciate it.”
Jack and I both smile at this. Sanda, Pujli’s daughter-in-law, very capably … and enthusiastically … runs the consulate’s social scene.
“Besides, he may want to return to Briori someday. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on another planet. And I wouldn’t force him to stay, especially if Kendi and Sanda were to go home.
“And, as you’ve both told me, Briori marriage is about status and power. I certainly have neither. I’d be a liability.”
My heart is breaking for her. But a part of me has been afraid of something like this …
Mom’s relationship with Pudge seemed rather unlikely, given that he spent his first few months as counsel seducing or trying to seduce half the female diplomatic corps in town. Originally, I worried that things between them would end in disaster, hurting her, and Jack in the bargain.
But what did I know? Maybe Mom enjoys a challenge … or maybe Pudge does. Maybe the presence of his eldest son, Kendi, and his family has mellowed him a bit. All I know now is that they’ve made it work for almost a decade. They’re Papi and Grandma to all the kids … mine, Phoebe’s and Kendi’s. We share holidays and family celebrations, vacations and Sunday dinners.
And a recall … or an arranged marriage would blow a large hole in all our hearts.
Mom excuses herself to go up to her room, with instructions not to wait dinner on her. Can’t say I’m too hungry myself.
I look over at Jack. “Well, do you want to talk to Pudge, or shall I?”
“I’ll go,” he says. “I definitely want to hear what he has to say.”