Celine sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the envelope in her hands. The sounds of the household - a knock at the door, a baby crying, footsteps on the stairs - were muffled by the beating of her heart. As she had done countless times in the last few months, Celine opened the flap of the unsealed envelope and drew out a newspaper clipping. Carefully, she unfolded the paper, which was threatening to tear at the well-worn folds, and smoothed it flat on her lap.
“Too bad you weren’t here. S.” The characteristic loops of Sylvia’s self-confident script sprawled in bright red ink that mocked her from the surface of the page. She would recognize Sylvia’s handwriting anywhere, even without the stylized curlicues of the ’S’ - her usual signature.
“Tobacco Heiress Weds,” announced the headline that straddled the entire width of the Society page of the South Jersey Times. “Atlantic City, NJ. Friday, December 26, 1969. Sylvia Sutherland and Gordon Sethwick were married in the chapel of the Atlantic City Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve in a quiet ceremony,” the story began. “The bride, who is the daughter of the late Ann Olivier Barnstable and stepdaughter of Arthur Sutherland, was draped in a long-sleeved, scoop-necked white silk sheath gown. The skirt was overlaid with antique white lace onto which were sewn at random a plethora of white pearls. She wore antique white lace gloves and white peau de soie pumps. White pearl earrings and a white pearl choker completed her bridal outfit.
The bride was attended by her Maid of Honor, Susan Sutherland, and was given in marriage by her stepfather, Arthur Sutherland. The groom was attended by Mr. Arnold Barnstable, the bride’s brother, who acted as Best Man. The newlyweds will honeymoon on Hawaii before returning to their respective positions at the family firm, Sutherland Smokes.”
Celine refolded the news clipping, replaced it in the envelope and looked around the room. The closet and drawers were empty; her suitcases were packed. The baby’s cry penetrated her consciousness and she automatically rose to go to her son - then sat back down. He was no longer her son, she reminded herself. He belonged now to Mary and Zeb. Mary would cherish him; would keep him safe and happy. No one would every know about her son. Not Celine's father, not Baby Arthur's father. And most definitely not Sylvia.