It was time for the truth.
Oliver could see the deep pain in Monica’s eyes, no matter how hard she tried to hide it. It was the pain of shame and guilt. Monica was hiding something from him that was destroying her.
If he wasn’t certian about this before holding his broken daughter as she cried until her legs were weak, he was without a doubt now. Nina was such a strong child. He kept having to remind himself that she really wasn’t a child anymore, no matter how much she still felt like one in his heart. He didn’t know what Monica had done to her, or why, but he was without doubt that Nina didn’t deserve any of the pain that had been inflicted upon her.
Olly’s heart was breaking, and he didn’t yet even know why. Had he caused all of this? According to Monica he had, but he wasn’t sure he could trust her judgment on anything right now–not with all she was keeping from him. He knew he’d isulated himself from them over the years to keep himself from missing them any more than he already did, but he must have been simultaneously blinding himself to their hurt as well.
Maybe he should have written more. Maybe he should have returned earlier. Maybe he should have shared more with Monica about their financial state. He should have asked more questions. He should have been more sensitive. After spending six years on a ship, his soft side had been more and more concealed beneath the rugged exterior of a master sailor.
He was Olly Swarth, second only to the owner of a fine trading ship, working for a successful merchant company, in the greatest nation in the world! He rarely met a stranger. He cherished his wife and daughter, waiting reverently for any letter he received from home, and always writing back his location, sentiments, and well-being. He never found much to write about from his daily life, knowing it was rather monotonous to most, but he loved his work and the freedom of the ocean swelling beneath his watercraft. Looking back he realized that Monica’s letters had grown fewer and more cold with each year, but at the time, he’d just chosen not to dwell on it with so many other things more immediately at hand.
Perhaps her pain was his fault.
Olly had waited in the sitting parlor for nearly two hours before Monica returned home from wherever she had been. He was shocked how little she had been home in the brief two weeks since he’d returned. It had taken him considerable time to feel out the circumstances of his household enough to decide how to address his impending confrontation with Monica. She had remained quiet and compliant toward him, seemingly out of guilt, but at the same time had managed to come off cold and bitter.
Nina, conversely, had spent as much time around him as possible since his return, and he’d been thankful to see her countenance begin to lift a little each day. Nonetheless, she silently avoided any discussion about her mother, choosing instead to ask him endlessly about his travels and experiences abroad, as dry and uninteresting as they seemed to him. She’d also blushingly confided to his inquisitive chiding that there was a young man at the city market of whom she was rather fond. Though it was shocking to think of his little girl showing affection toward any man but himself, their attraction seemed to be as innocent and appropriate as he could hope for her.
Olly’s thoughts were interrupted by the opening of the front door. It looked like the moment had arrived. He’d sent Nina out for the day to help a friend with a quilting project they’d been planning for months, and doubted that she would have returned already, knowing Nina’s love for needlework. Monica’s footsteps sounded on the wooden floor of the hallway, and moved toward the kitchen. As she passed the entrance to the parlor on her way to the kitchen, their eyes met, and she halted.
“Hi, Monica,” he spoke tenderly.
“Hello,” she replied, averting her gaze.
He asked her where she’d been, and she informed him that she’d been delivering some things to an elderly friend on the other side of town.
“How is Mrs. Townsend doing these days?” he inquired, “I haven’t seen her in years.”
She had been their neighbor many years ago, and had served as a mother figure to Monica when they moved in next door shortly after being married. Olly was the youngest of nine children, and had married in his mid twenties. Both of his parents had passed away by the time he was twenty seven. Monica had been an orphan since she was twelve years old, and was lovingly raised with her two cousins by her aunt and uncle in New York city. She met Olly through a friend and moved away with him when they were married. Monica was only nineteen when she’d become a wife, and the wisdom and affection she’d received at the kindness of dear Mrs. Townsend had been a cherished comfort to her in a time of great uncertainty. In recent years, Monica had been able to return that kindness, as the elderly lady grew more and more in need of assistance.
Monica replied, “She is growing weaker every year, but her heart is still as studded with gold as ever.”
Olly was encouraged to see the slight twinkle in Monica’s eye when she spoke of her dear, old friend. It did little to diminish the reservation she retained toward him, though, and he remembered his reslove to speak with her and face the unspeakeble.
He asked if she would be willing to come and join him in the parlor after she’d settled in a bit, and growing rigid she asked why.
“Monica, I think it’s past time that we talk.”