When she could trust her rubbery legs to move, Marilee fled back to her room.
She didn't belong and never had, but she was going to see this wedding through, and then, by God, the Coltranes would not be bothered with her again.
She rolled over onto her back, stared up at the lace canopy, taking deep breaths to try and quell the turmoil within. The more she thought about what she'd just overheard, the more depressed she became.
It bothered her that she had never in her whole life made a decision concerning her own welfare. It had not been necessary. Kitty had pampered her. Then she'd gone off to school, where teachers and counselors made the rules. So here she was, grown, educated, and everyone thought she was so weak and helpless that her only hope for survival was to get married and have a man take care of her and make all the decisions.
She had to admit she had been thinking seriously of accepting Rudolf's proposal, and now she found herself worrying whether the temptation had been due to her own subconscious telling her she could not face life on her own. After all, she could not truthfully say she loved him, but then how was she supposed to know what it would feel like if she did? His kisses gave her no particular thrill, but, again, no other man had ever kissed her, so how could she know?
Boyishly handsome with curly dark hair and brown eyes, he was also charming and intelligent, and she certainly admired his great talent and ambition to be a concert pianist. They had spent many pleasant evenings in the dormitory parlor, she sitting beside him on the piano bench as his slender fingers danced on the ivory keys to bring his music to life.
She had also enjoyed the company of Rudolf's sister, and when Elenore had left school months ago, she'd stayed in touch, urging Marilee to accept her brother's proposal.
When school ended, Rudolf and Elenore insisted she visit them for as long as she liked. Sympathetically, they pointed out that since she hadn't heard from her father in so long, she really had nowhere to go except to the Coltranes.
Marilee had hesitated, wanting time away from Rudolf to search within herself and decide if she wanted to marry him. Now, she bitterly mused, it seemed she had no other choice, since everyone around her apparently considered her a moron.
If only she could get in touch with her father, she thought desperately. She would not let herself believe he was dead. When his letters had abruptly stopped, she'd written in desperation to Czar Nicholas, only to learn a few days later of the revolution and his forced abdication...and she knew there would be no reply. Fear for her father's safety grew with each passing day.
When Rudolf had gently pointed out that she really had no home of her own, she had proudly reminded him of Daniberry. He was horrified that she could even consider going there, with Germany at war with France. Still, she knew if she had a home, it was the palatial estate just outside Paris that her father had so lovingly built for her mother. Forever would she treasure the memories of that Christmas she'd spent there with her father, the year after Kitty died. They had been so happy, so close, sharing ten beautiful days together. When, sadly, it had to end, he had promised that when her schooling was finished, he would leave Russia and, at long last, they would be together as father and daughter, and make Daniberry the home it was meant to be.
But now, standing at a crossroads in her life, she was determined that she would, ultimately, make the decision on which road to take, and no matter what anyone thought, said, or did, it was going to be her choice.
With a sigh of resignation, she got up, bathed, and dressed for the wedding breakfast. Staring at her reflection in the full-length mirror, she frowned. She had chosen a simple gray dress with a square neckline, short sleeves, a wide waist belt, and pleated skirt. Her shoes were black leather, with pointed toes and a silver buckle. She wore her chestnut hair parted in the middle, then wound in rolls above her ears. Rudolf liked it that way, just as he approved of conservative colors and styles. She'd never really cared much for fashion, feeling that since she was tall and slender, demure and alluring designs would only look ridiculous on her. Tiny, petite girls like Elenore were meant to wear them. Now, however, she wondered what it would be like to try something new. Her gown for the wedding was certainly different--peach chiffon with a slightly plunging neckline, pouf sleeves, a wide satin belt, and a gently billowing skirt that daintily touched her ankles above silver shoes with the highest heels she'd ever worn. Yet she knew that despite everything, she would still look dull, colorless.
There was a knock, and she heard Jade calling to her. When she opened the door, she could not help thinking that the look of disappointment in her aunt's eyes matched her own in the mirror.
With a forced smile, Jade said, "Well, I see you're up and ready for the breakfast, and since we've got a few minutes, I'd like to talk to you, if I may."
Marilee shrugged, gestured to the chairs in front of the fireplace. They sat down, and Jade got straight to the point.
"We're worried about you, dear," she began gently. "All of us. You seem so unhappy."
"I'm sorry if I'm making everyone uncomfortable," Marilee coolly said, not looking at her but staring down at her folded hands.
"Oh, no, dear. It's not that. We care. We really do. I just wanted to know if there's anything I can do, if there's anything you want to talk about. Heavens, I know you're worried about your father. We all are, but for the moment, there's nothing we can do but pray for his safety."
"I wish I could go look for him," Marilee said miserably. "I feel so helpless."
"If I thought it would help, I'd encourage you to do just that."