Noel and I spent the rest of the afternoon amusing — or distracting — Caleb; playing outside, reading together, drawing pictures. Since he had napped before lunch, he didn’t need another in the afternoon. Instead, we spent an hour listening to classical music on the radio in the sitting room while I read a children’s version of Arthurian tales out loud.
I thought Noel would slip away at this point, but instead he sat on the other side of Caleb on the sofa and stroked his hair when Caleb leaned against him, smiling to himself when I did voices for the characters.
At supper, Emmanuel scowled more than usual, and he flicked his gaze between Noel and me repeatedly all through the meal. We both had changed clothes and washed up as soon as we got back to the house, but I suppose there was something different about us enough for someone looking for it to notice. Did we look at each other more affectionately, speak with more gentleness, let our hands linger when we touched? Perhaps we did. But to me, we acted as we always did, friendly to each other but more concerned with Caleb.
After supper was eaten and Caleb was put to bed, Noel and I met in the library with our papers and books. Noel had reports to analyze and I had vocabulary sheets to make, to keep up with Caleb’s growing reading ability in both French and English.
We worked in silence for a while except for the usual crackle of the fire in the fireplace and the evening rain tapping on the window. I put down my pencil when I finished the drawing of a manticore — today’s vocabulary theme was animals, and I’d added some creatures from our Arthur stories for a little fun — and rubbed my eyes, feeling the weight of the day.
Noel looked up, the lamplight glinting off his reading glasses. They made him look scholarly, like he was about to expound on the theme of Cogito ergo sum or quote Omar Khayyám. “Long day,” he remarked.
“Yeah.” I began to put my pencils in order by color. “Noel. There’s something I’ve been thinking about today.”
Noel looked alarmed. “Malcolm, not here–“
“No, not about that. Something else. Have you ever noticed how none of your grandfathers remarried after their wives died?”
Noel exhaled slowly, relaxing. “I have. So did Grace.”
“Is that why she thought the family is cursed?”
“It’s how we know the family is cursed,” Noel said. “It’s a lesson each generation has had to learn for themselves.”