Home > Meant to Be

Meant to Be
Author: Jude Deveraux


   Mason, Kansas

May 1972

   Adam is back.

   Vera Exton couldn’t get that thought out of her head. The man she had always loved, the man who held the keys to her future, was finally home.

   She was on the front porch of her family home. As always, she was surrounded by newspapers and magazines. She paid to have the New York Times sent to her. That it arrived three days late didn’t matter. At least she got to see what was going on in the world. The world. Not just Kansas, not just the US, but everywhere.

   In college, she’d majored in political science, with a minor in geography. She knew where the Republic of Vanuatu was, where Rajasthan, India, was. She could tell Bhutan from Nepal by a single photo. She’d studied languages on her own and knew a smattering of several. Rhodesia, she thought. Madagascar. She’d send her sister photos of herself with a lemur when she got there. Kelly would like that.

   Vera closed her eyes, leaning back in the old chair that her mother had bought at a craft fair. It had been made by someone local, using local materials. That was the difference between them. Her mother and her sister prided themselves on “local,” while Vera could only see the world.

   “And now it’s all going to begin,” she whispered, and opened her eyes.

   Bending, she began stacking the newspapers and magazines. Her mother complained about the mess that always surrounded Vera. “We can hardly walk through a room,” her mother often said, frowning. Since her husband died two years ago, Nella Exton did little but frown.

   If Kelly was around, she helped Vera clean up. Or helped Vera do anything, for Kelly was deeply glad her big sister was there and doing what everyone expected her to do.

   When Kelly mentioned her gratitude, their mother just sniffed. “She’s the eldest child, so of course she takes care of things.” Even though the sisters were only ten months apart, to their mother Vera was to take on the family’s responsibilities, so she was doing what she was supposed to do. There was no other choice.

   But Kelly didn’t feel that way. In what people tended to call “the drug culture,” many kids ran away, never to be seen again. The idea of “family obligations” was becoming obsolete. But not to Vera.

   She had postponed the future she’d dreamed of, had studied for, to give her sister what she wanted and Kelly was ever thankful, grateful and appreciative.

   For all her sister’s appreciation, right now all Vera could think of was that Adam’s return meant the ordeal of staying at home was over.

   He’d arrived just in time for his father’s funeral, as there’d been delays on the long flight from Africa. Vera had searched the newspapers to find out what was going on in Kenya. During the years he’d been away, Adam’s letters were full of stories of floods and bridges collapsing, infestations and diseases with exotic names. His letters had made her heart pound with excitement. She’d read them to her mother and sister, then was shocked by the horror on their faces. “But doesn’t it sound wonderful?” Vera would ask.

   Nella said a flat no, and Kelly would say, “If you like that sort of thing.” Then she’d pick up a few of her animals and feed them or groom them or whatever she did with them.

   Vera had seen Adam after the service, but she’d not spoken to him. He was surrounded by people offering condolences. His father, Burke Hatten, had been a big shot in the county. “Ask Burke” was a common catchphrase.

   In Vera’s opinion, the man thought he knew much more than he did, which is why he and his eldest son had always butted heads. Burke’s temper and his son’s matching one was why Adam had run off to join the Peace Corps.

   Well, that and Vera’s endless talk of how she was joining the second she finished college. She’d begged Adam to go with her, but he’d always said no. He said he’d be waiting for her in Kansas when she grew tired of moving about the world and came home.

   Funny how things work out, she thought as she stacked the papers. Adam had the big fight with his dad and had run off to the Peace Corps. Vera had planned to join him, but her father had died suddenly, leaving no one to care for the farm. To Vera, the solution was to sell the farm, but Nella had refused to leave the place. In just a few weeks, everything changed. Vera had agreed to stay behind until Kelly finished veterinary school. The new plan was that as soon as Kelly graduated, Vera would join Adam wherever the Peace Corps had sent him.

   Now everything was going to change again. Burke Hatten’s horse threw him and he’d died instantly, so Adam had returned. But this time when he left the country to go back to his job in Africa, Vera wouldn’t be kissing him goodbye. They’d leave together. The goodbyes would be to her mother and sister, to the farm, to her job at the travel agency. Goodbye to the town of Mason. The world she’d been reading about was out there and calling to her.

   At last, she was going to answer its call.

   She heard Kelly before she saw her. But that had always been the case. Schoolkids tended to call her Pig-Pen after the Peanuts character. But while he was surrounded by dust, Kelly was followed by and covered with animals. Today there was a parrot on her shoulder and some kind of lizard had its tail wrapped around her neck. Three dogs, tails down, were following her. In her hand was a fat textbook that had bird droppings on the cover.

   Kelly was almost finished with veterinary school and the “almost” was the key to Vera’s life.

   When Kelly was out of the school, Vera could go!

   “So where is he?” Kelly asked as she sat down. She removed the lizard from her neck and put it on the porch railing. The bird flew to land on the lizard’s tail. One of the dogs looked longingly at the bird, but Kelly gave the dog a stare that made it lie down, head on paws. Kelly didn’t believe in discourteous animals.

   “He’ll be here,” Vera said.

   “Sure? I saw Miranda Miller at the funeral. She was eyeing him and she looked good in her miniskirt. I bet she was afraid to sit down or she’d show all.”

   Vera didn’t take the bait. For one thing, Kelly didn’t like Adam. She thought he was too full of himself, too bossy. Too much like his father. “I didn’t talk to him, and we didn’t reaffirm our love for each other, if that’s what you’re hinting at. And Miranda Miller is an idiot.”

   “Men like dumb girls,” Kelly said.

   “Until they marry them,” Vera shot back.

   “And that’s when she gets to stop pretending to be stupid.”

   Vera laughed.

   The bird had flown back to Kelly and she was feeding it something she took from her shirt pocket.

   All their lives, they’d heard, “You two are sisters?” said in an incredulous tone. They looked very different. When they were younger, they’d answered truthfully. Vera explained that she took after her father’s family while Kelly was like their mother’s side. As they grew up, they began to play jokes. Kelly was a good actress and she would pretend to be shocked. Sometimes she’d even pull up tears, saying that maybe her father wasn’t really her father. Mac Exton had played along with the joke but his wife had never liked it.

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