Questions Without Answers

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I'd need to give them a few minutes to really work through their emotions, so I decided to do exactly what I said I'd do and check out the table settings that Jordan had been working on, as well as admire the dining room which I was seeing for the first time.

I found a long table, really two tables pushed together, filled the lengthy room. Jordan had done a fine job cleaning up the wall and ceiling to mask whatever seam might have remained from joining the dining room with the drawing room. However, the hardwood floor was not so simple to patch. Perhaps out of desire to maintain the original flooring, planks of uneven length filled a jagged strip running slightly off from center in the room. Though I was confident the wood type — whether it was maple, oak, or cherry — was the same, it certainly didn't come from a tree that dated back to the American Revolution. The grain wasn't quite right and though it appeared that the entire flooring was refinished during the renovation, the shade of the stain still wasn't exactly the same tint as the older boards. However, no one would have noticed if they didn't know to look for it and the guests that night certainly wouldn't even glance at the floor considering the elaborate setup waiting on the table.

A tablecloth adorned in a subtle plaid of muted burgundies and warm golds, blanketed the dark wooden tabletop. A runner of creamy linen stretched down the middle and complimented the milky white placemats. Shiny silverware rested atop red-orange cloth napkins and a little decorative pumpkin sat atop the gold-rimmed plates arranged upon each mat. Centerpieces of silken fall leaves, glitter-dusted flowers, and autumn harvest classics like squash and corn, were spaced along the runner. Beside them, crystal holders propped up tall red candles waiting to be lit. Plenty of room remained to place baskets of biscuits and dishes of sweet potato casserole, but a couple small tables also lined the walls to act as serving stations for the hearty banquet.

"I'm sorry," said a soft, masculine voice from behind me. "I haven't really informed everyone of your family history. To be fair, I didn't even know your parents had died when you were so young."

"There's no reason to apologize," I said, turning to find Jordan closing the doors that bordered the kitchen and dining room, providing us some sense of privacy. "Most don't know I'm an orphan and I prefer it that way. I don't like playing the sympathy card. My grandmother taught me to be responsible and honorable in all that I do. Playing on people's emotions to get me places is neither."

"Still," he said, walking around to the other side of the table, the one closest to the windows overlooking the lawn, "I'm sorry to hear you've been without family for so long." He didn't turn to face me, instead he gazed out over the grass which had gone prickly and brown in the chill of the coming winter. Yet in the warm, late afternoon glow of the setting sun, a golden hue captured the cropped stems and it created a halo in Jordan's honey hair. "I did know you lost your parents in a car crash, but I didn't learn that until a few years into my service with Gina and she never elaborated further than that. Really anything to do with her family was a touchy subject so I didn't pry unless she wanted me to. So given that knowledge, for all I knew you lost your parents when you were eighteen. Not that that makes it any better, but..." He stopped and shook his head. "I don't know what I'm trying to say."

"Then don't try to," I replied. "Your words aren't needed. I'm sure I've heard them before."

He looked over his shoulder before sighing and turning to face me in full. "You know, I was excited when I heard Saundra found the baby in that picture." He began to pace the table, his hands behind his back and his eyes studying the decorative beams in the ceiling. "I knew that that little girl must have suffered just as Georgina suffered. I knew she'd lost family just as Georgina had and maybe some small good could come from her death because at least now Gina's family would finally find her and maybe that would bring both of you some small comfort." He stopped, his eyes bold and wide in the low light. "But, then instead of finding a grateful relative running up to the door, I get an appraiser looking to set a listing price for someone who wasn't even going to come out and see her aunt's legacy for herself."

I started to churn responses through my head, shifting through them to find the one that would most please Jordan, but he rounded the end of the table and came up to me within a few long strides. With him a foot or so away, his head bent down to study my impassive face. His eyes pierced me and every response I could call forward was a jumbled explanation that sounded like bull shit even to my ears.

"Why?" he asked, his voice more pleading than angry. "Why don't you care about her?"

"Not all of us treat misery with the same medicine," I answered, my eyes unable to leave his. "I'm not my aunt. She stewed in her loneliness and held on to a person that hasn't existed for almost thirty years now. I chose a different remedy." I swallowed and lowered my gaze, shaking my head as I continued. "We aren't the same people Jordan, stop trying to find my aunt inside of me. For starters, Georgina had a lot more family than I ever did. She had this town. She had you. That's more than I can say."

I waited in silence for a response, when I didn't get one, I took a breath and stepped away from Jordan and put some much needed space between us.

"Don't get me wrong though," I added, "I do appreciate what I did have. I had my grandmother. She raised me as her own and I did not want for affection during my childhood. I also had my maternal grandparents, though they struggled to cope with the loss of my mother and decided to move across the country so they could heal away from all the places that reminded them of her. I rarely saw them and only really knew them from the few letters I got over the years. Still, I wasn't completely alone."

"This grandmother," he said, staying where I left him and allowing me the distance I set between us, "you said she was the sister-in-law to Georgina, right?"

"Yes," I answered, looking back at him with my brow raised slightly at the shift in the conversation.

"I understood you were raised by your grandmother, but I kind of assumed it was one not related to Georgina considering your lack of knowledge about her." A hand rubbed his chin, his eyes looking to the floor. "If she had been Gina's sister-in-law though, why didn't you know about Gina?"

"Clearly someone did," I said, "or else that picture would have never been taken."

"And you honestly had never heard of her?" He stopped inspecting the grain of the wood and faced me in full. His lips parted with a soft droop and his brow pinched in contemplation.

"I'd never heard of her," I answered, "and I honestly don't know why." Done with the dredging of my past, I cut off Jordan before he could add more questions to the ones I already had. "I'm going to head back into the kitchen now. I need to work on the other fillings."

He sighed and gave me a nod before we both made our way back to the soothing smells of turkey and cinnamon.

***

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