Mr. Tucker was away at christmas, although he did return for a two week stink in mid January before business called him away for most of February and March. Eva took his absence stoically, saying that come spring he promised to be home more and even take her on a trip to visit her sister. She said that she loved Mr. Tucker and she knew he loved her. She showed us around her house again, pointing out all the treasures that Mr. Tucker had collected, telling us about each one, as, on his last stay, Mr. Tucker had explained each to Eva. Eva aid that, while pointing out his treasures, Mr. Tucker had stopped and said that al the other treasures were nothing compared to her, his greatest treasure.
She blushed as she told us this, saying that Mr. Tucker had told her that he thought of her as a work of art.
“Its' true” I blurted out. “You're the most beautiful woman in the whole world”.
Eva smoothed her gown over her flat torso and the gentle curve of her hips self-consciously. “You really think so Nina?”
“Sure I do . . . you're the magic princess, so you have to be beautiful.”
Amy looked at me crossly.
“I mean” I tried to recover “that's the way things are supposed to work, isn't it?”
“I suppose so Nina.” She seemed distracted, then recovered. “Yes, it must be so . . . say, let's go upstairs, it's time I taught you two about makeup.”
“Oh boy” Amy chirped. “And can we have some chocolates too?”
“Ssh, Nina” Eva put a finger to her lips. “We don't want Mrs. Steiner to hear now do we?”
We both shook our heads and ran upstairs.
Mr. Tucker came home the next day, stayed for two or three days and then was gone again, leaving more promises of more time spent at home. As soon as he left the weather turned truly foul and we were unable to see Eva for almost a month. Of course this didn't stop Amy and I from talking about our newfound friend.
“Don't you think it's weird that Mr. Tuckers' gone all the time?” Amy asked. “I mean, if he thinks she's such a treasure and everything, you'd think he'd either stay home or take her with him.”
“Yeah” I agreed. “What's so important about his business that he can't spend more time with her? I know she'd like to see him more.”
“Right” Amy nodded “She's the magic princess and the prince is supposed to take care of her and fawn over her . . .”
“And give her jewels and candies and stuff” I added. “Y'know, maybe Mr. Tucker isn't a prince after all, but an evil ogre who'se holding her prisoner in his castle. I mean, she can never go out unless he's with her, and he forbids her from eating anything tasty and fattening. Surely a prince wouldn't act like that, now would he?”
“Not if he really cared” Amy opined. “What Eva needs is a Sir Lancelot to come and rescue her, 'cause Mr. Tucker sure doesn't deserve her.”
But where were two almost eleven year old girls going to find a Sir Lancelot? The need for finding one however became all the more evident once the weather cleared and we were able to go and visit with Eva.
She answered the door wearing a silk housecoat and slippers, looking as plain as it was possible for her to look. Her hair was a little ratty and her eyes looked dull and puffy.
“Nina, what a pleasant surprise” she tried to sound enthusiastic but her voice sounded forced and hollow. “Come in, come in” and then she whispered “did you bring chocolates?”
I smiled and opened my purse to show her the small box hidden amongst the normal junk that accumulated in a young girl's purse.
“Good” Eva whispered. “Let's go upstairs. I want to show you the new dress Mr. Tucker sent me.”
She tried to make it seem like old times, but it was clear, even to two ten going on eleven year olds that she was pre-occupied. Finally, after about an hour, she said she was sorry and admitted that she had a headache and really needed to take a nap.
“OK, we'll leave” said Amy, “but we'll be back to look in on you this weekend. Have Mrs. Steiner make you some chicken soup.”
Eva laughed and I chipped in “Yeah, and have Mr. Tucker come home and take care of you.”
Oops, wrong thing to say, for Eva's smile broke instantly, her shoulders slumped and it looked like it was all she could do to hold back the tears. We left quietly, hoping that she would feel better soon.
As soon as we got out of earshot I wailed to Amy “Can't Mr. Tucker see that he's killing the magic? The magic only works when the princess is happy, and now she looks so fragile and withdrawn.”
“Yeah, like a flower that's wilting” Amy added. “What are we going to do? It's just not fair!”
But providence provides . . . sometimes.
In late spring Mr. Tucker did as promised, taking Eva on a two week trip to visit her sister. Upon their return they made a couple of trips into town, Mr. Tucker strutting like a peacock with his gorgeous treasure radiating brilliantly on his arm. The trip and Mr. Tuckers' attention seemed to restore Eva's glow and Amy and I were happy, but soon he was gone again, off on another of his business trips, the only evidence that he had been home at all were the two or three objects d' arte that he'd added to his collection.
But, as I said, providence provides. It was a warm afternoon in early June when Sir Lancelot arrived. We were having lemonade in the sunroom as we watched his BMW snake up the drive.
“I wonder who that can be?” Eva muttered absently.
“Bet we're gonna find out” exclaimed Amy; and then, seconds later, the doorbell rang. Eva rose to answer, and as the door opened you could just about see the sparks flying between them. He was tall, thin, dark haired and handsome, with an almost casual sense of grace and style. He introduced himself as an art dealer and art historian, who also wrote for the states' art magazine. He said he had been hired by Mr. Tucker to appraise and authenticate the two Capa Da Montes' he had just aquired.
Eva introduced Mr. Kennedy to us and then we all moved to the formal reading room where Mr. Tucker displayed most of his treasures. As he examined the porcelin, Mr. Kennedy made small talk and kept pointing out certain points of the decidedly wicked carvings and inviting Eva to get close to him and get a better view. She was obviously taken by him as she blushed and then drew close, pushing her long wavy black hair away from her face.
As they further inspected the piece, their hands happened to touch and one could almost see the two of them melting into one another. Amy looked at me and whispered “the magic is back; Lancelot has returned to her!”
I smiled and nodded simply content to watch the two of them as they ogled each other and made small talk.
Throughout the summer Lancelot was a frequent visitor to the Tuckers' castle; I'm sure purporting to be anilizing another piece of Mr. Tuckers' treasures, but rumours began spreading about town that he was more taken by Mrs. Tuckers' treasures than he was by any art piece. The tongue waggers added that it would b e wise of Mr. Tucker to spend a little more time tending to the home front else he lose his greatest treasure to the handsome art appraiser.
Amy and I heard it all and kept silent. For while Mr. Kennedy was present several times when we came to visit, Eva, in her wisdom, never failed to include us; always asking us in for iced tea or lemonade. In our eleven year old viewpoint, all Amy and I saw was the whole romantic notion of the affaire: the holding hands, the kind words, the admiration, the looks of love in their eyes. And here we were, Evas' friends and witnesses to it all.
It was grand, but then, after about two months away, Mr. Tucker returned and Mr. Kennedy found it prudent to stay away. Of course Amy and I were disappointed and we thought Mr. Tucker an evil ogre for spoiling the sweet romance we were privy to; as being eleven year olds we had no idea that there may have been anything unseemly, primal, or sexual going on. In our black and white world, Mr. Kennedy made Eva happy and that was good, therefore it was perfectly acceptable for him to be with her. Mr. Tucker, on the other hand, we weren't quite sure about. It seemed that Eva cared for him and was lonely without him, but he was a bad man because he left her alone so often and made her so unhappy.