As our first trip together approached, I begin to think of all the things that could go wrong. Taryn and I had been together for about 2 months at this point and I had barely told her about my family history, I figured my mother would find it easier to divulge to her or at least this was what I was telling myself.
The Brownstone is located on the East side of San Martino, at the end of a 4-mile private road, it was even equipped with its own vineyard and lake. It was a mansion straight out of a Jane Austen novel, packed with history and architectural beauty, but to me, it was home- it wasn’t until Richard and I hit high school that we realised just how well off our family really was. My mother had always insisted we attend a public high school as it would keep is grounded, but it was also the instant, we realised we stood out. For me, it was also when I began to reject and deny the wealth we had, Richard did the very opposite. So as Taryn and I neared San Martino, I began to feel my anxiety build; I had never mentioned just how wealthy my family was, it had never come up in conversation, but I was more concerned about how she would treat me once she knew. I wondered if I needed to prepare her; throw out a couple of hints along the drive, maybe point out some of the mansions as we approach the outskirts of San Martino. As I look over at Taryn with the wind blowing through her loose hair, a huge smile on her face and her arms outstretched to the sky, I’m grateful I chose the convertible for the drive, but I also realise I couldn’t ruin the vibe. But, what I have come to realise about Taryn is that she’s really receptive and in tune with the feelings I project, even if they’re subconscious. About 45 minutes from our destination, Taryn looks over and blurts out,
“So, you were a rich boy, weren’t you?,” she pauses, taking another tact, “I know I offended you when I first mentioned it, I don’t mean anything by it. I can just tell that it makes you uncomfortable and I guess I don’t know how to wrap my head around the fact that it makes you feel awkward,” she reaches across and touches my hand.
“I’m not really comfortable with the lifestyle, I recognise that my father, grandfather and great-grandfather worked really hard in their lives and on The Brownstone, so I have pride in that. But, I was always treated differently in school, because of the money and ultimately, my brother spiralled out of control and eventually died because of the money,” I say as I take the right turn onto our road. “I keep it at arm’s length because I don’t want to drown in it- it just worries me.” I look over and give her a small smile.
“I can’t say I understand the amount of money, but I can see why you would be uncomfortable- it’s probably a lot to handle and as the only remaining son- you probably have a lot on your shoulders, but maybe you should look at it from your father’s perspective. He worked hard because he wanted a better life for you guys, so enjoy the better life- he’s given it to you. Think of it that way. And if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to taking a stroll in your vineyard and to get a taste of the wine. So don’t ruin my buzz.” She cheekily sticks her tongue out at me.
I can’t help but laugh out loud, “Ahh Dr Taryn Franklin-Dorough, I really do need you in my life! Maybe I’ve just needed someone to enjoy it all with!”
“Well, I’m here. Just don’t let me get away.”
As she says that, I stop the car on the brow of the hill at the end of our drive, I put the car in park, unbuckle my seat belt, reach across and plant a huge kiss on her lips. I whisper, “I won’t. I promise.” Her eyes twinkle temptingly and I feel the ripple to the tips of my fingers. “We’re here. I’m confident, you’re honestly going to love it!” I drive slowly over the brow, to allow her the time and opportunity to take in The Brownstone for the 1st time. Even I had to allow her this, as it really was breathtaking.
Mother and the gardener had really outdone themselves with the rose bushes and cherry blossoms, it really pulled you in. As I pulled up along the arched driveway, the house came into full view and I hear Taryn gasp.
“Oh my god Jon, it’s honestly beautiful! You couldn’t have grown up here! I’m in shock.”
I couldn’t reply as I was beaming.
“It’s lovely, isn’t it?”
“Lovely?! It’s beyond beautiful! I can almost shed a tear!” she started opening the car door.
“No, no! Let me,” I reply as I quickly run around the convertible; in that instance, Mother and our butler, Simon, step out of the grand entrance and double arching doors.
“Johnathan! Sweetheart! I’m so so happy to see you back at home, finally!” she was practically running towards us.
“Mother, you look radiant! The drive up is spectacular! I love what you and Yanni have done with the cherry blossom trees!”
“Oh thank you, it’s all Yanni. I’m radiant because my boy is finally back home!” she pulls me into a tight bear hug.
I formally introduce Taryn to my mother, who reaches forward and embraces her in the same tight bear hug she affords me.
“Oh, you beauty! I’m so so glad you agreed to spend your first vacation at The Brownstone! I am honoured. I know hanging out with an in-law isn’t always fun, but don’t you worry this house is so grand, you won’t even know I’m here,” she clearly winks at Taryn.
“Really mom, you’re so embarrassing,” I say as I roll my eyes.
“Oh Diana, thank you so much for inviting me. I am speechless at the beauty of this house. Honestly.”
“You’re too kind. Come! I’ve got champagne chilling in the sunroom. Let’s enjoy ourselves!,” she grabs Taryn’s hand and leads her excitedly into the mansion; leaving me in the dust.
I sigh contentedly; that went down much better than when I brought Isabelle here, I think to myself. I greet Simon and decided to allow my mother and Taryn some time together, I carry our bags into the East wing of the Brownstone, where my room was located.
Mother always got bored with the decor of the house, she was always renovating or updating some part of it, so my bedroom thankfully looked nothing like it was when I was growing up. I secretly thank mother for that, it allowed me to not have to cringe if Taryn came across an old poster of Tiffani Amber Thiessen or Alicia Silverstone. Although I wouldn’t put it past mother to have boxes of my old things packed away neatly and far too conveniently somewhere in the museum-like attic. I put our bags down on the tufted ottoman at the base of the bed and stroll across the expansive room over to the French doors, leading to my private balcony. Not missing a beat, mother had arranged to have a full charcuterie board with a bottle of champagne chilling in wait for us, I had to try and pry Taryn away from her to show her the lengths my mother was taking to make her comfortable. I wouldn’t tell her that she didn’t afford this to Isabelle, it would make Taryn feel guilty, but what it showed me was that my mother really liked Taryn, even if she didn’t know her all that well. I couldn’t help but let out a grin, I felt happy. Happy at the Brownstone. Happy in my house. I hadn’t felt this at peace and content in a very long time.
Our ten-day vacation at The Brownstone was so blissful, it was the stuff of dreams. I was so relaxed, I found myself practically skipping and hopping around the property; everything seemed so much more beautiful, the birds chirping in the morning, the smell of food wafting in from the kitchen, the breeze from the vineyard. I could feel it all. Taryn and I spent days lounging by the pool, we took a mini wine tour, slept out amongst the stars one night and yet she still managed to find time to squeeze in a manicure, a massage and daily yoga with mother. She was living her best life and I was there for all of it, I loved that she was so appreciative of all everything that was on offer to her. Simon and Martha, our housekeeper ensured we lacked nothing, food and drink were constantly available, they were thrilled to have something to fill their time as The Brownstone didn’t keep them as busy as it used to. It was then that I concluded, we just couldn’t sell the property, no matter how much work it was to maintain, I would take over the role from mother. It reignited something in me and brought back memories and feelings I hadn’t felt in a while. Don’t get me wrong, since all the deaths in my family, I had been back to The Brownstone, I used it to escape my every day, but this trip was so very different from the last. Where previously, it reminded me of loss, heartache and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness, this time around I felt rejuvenated. Whether it was because I was visiting under positive circumstances, whether it was because I could hear mother’s deep laughter after all these years, real laughter. Or maybe it was because Taryn was here, everything with her was so much sweeter, she made me feel like I was 16 again! Before we left, I was adamant to tell Taryn just how monumental this trip was to me. As I entered the sunroom with my mother and Taryn giggling over a hushed conversation. I clear my throat; ever the respectful one.
“Sorry to interrupt your girly chat, but I think I might need to borrow my girlfriend,” I say as I stick my tongue out.
“Oh! I’m so sorry for hoging her, she’s been such a great companion! You both have! I’m really going to miss you guys, it’s been so so wonderful. Please promise you won’t leave it for another 2 years before you visit again,” her eyes were welling up.
“Mom, I’m only taking her for a walk in the gardens. We’ll set off for Brampford, after supper and I promise we’ll be back soon- it really has been such a wonderful trip,” I attempt to reassure her. I knew she would be emotional saying goodbye, I just didn’t expect it so suddenly.
“Oh, of course, I only wanted to let you know just how happy I am to have you both here, sweetheart, I miss you ever so much,” she wiped a tear away, stood up and straightened her beige pencil skirt. “I might as well use the time to squeeze in a quick swim, while you love birds chat.” And just like that, the Diana I knew was back.
I look over at Taryn, her hair up in a loose bun with a small cluster of her curls escaping from the sides, I loved when her hair seemed an afterthought. She really was beautiful. She was so busy smiling lovingly at mother and our exchange, she hadn’t realised I was looking so intently at her. I reach my hand out to hers and this snaps her out of her thoughts.
“You ok?,” I ask?
She inhales, “Yeah, I am. Seeing your mother so upset has made me emotional,” she whispers.
“I can understand…Saying goodbye will be a tough one. I’m not looking forward to it,” I squeeze her hand. The walk to the peony section of the garden was completed in silence, both of us in our own thoughts.
“It’s beautiful out here! I know I keep saying that, but it really is!” exclaimed Taryn.
“This is my favourite part of the garden.’
“I can see why…so what is it you’d like to talk about?” she looks enquiringly at me.
I take a deep breath, “I know we’ve not really discussed our relationship- if that’s what we’re calling it…but we’ve seen each other often the last few weeks and now with you here, at The Brownstone- it’s reaffirmed what I was already feeling back at home,” I had been avoiding her eyes, but as I finish my sentence, I look her in the eye. “Taryn, I’m falling in love with you. I want to make this”, I gesture with my hand, “…us…a thing. I want it to be official,” I rush out the words. I’m not sure what I had anticipated her reaction would be, I knew we cared about each other, but I needed to let her know just how much.
A broad smile crosses her face as she blinked away what looked like tears. “Wow, Jon…I’d love to make us more serious. I’ve really fallen for you as well and I mean, look around- what a backdrop to become official!”
“Come here”, I reach over and pull her onto my lap, luckily she’s wearing shorts, I manoeuvre her so she could straddle me. We straddle face to face for a few moments, breathing in each other’s scent. I am the first to break the silence.
“I think I actually need you, Taryn. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but you make me feel like the real Jonathan. The youthful, funny, carefree one that I had locked up and away for decades. The one I was too afraid to show for fear of judgement or mistrust. You accept me and the scars that I have shown you…but I have more…scars. You said you’d accept them without judgement, are you ready to hear them now?,” I whisper breathily.
“Tell me tonight, when we’re back at your place…,” she says as she plants kisses all over my face, “and then we’ll make love.”
Later that night, that is exactly what we did.