"Nell and Etta?"
"Nell is our cook." Clare smiles. "Nell is like cordon bleu meets Detroit; she's how Aretha Franklin would be if she was Julia Child. Etta is our housekeeper and all-around everything. She's really more almost our mom; I mean, my mother is . . . well, Etta's just always there, and she's German and strict, but she's very comforting, and my mother is kind of off in the clouds, you know?"
I nod, my mouth full of soup.
"Oh, and there's Peter," Clare adds. "Peter is the gardener."
"Wow. Your family has servants. This sounds a little out of my league. Have I ever, uh, met any of your family?"
"You met my Grandma Meagram right before she died. She was the only person I ever told about you. She was pretty much blind by then. She knew we were going to get married and she wanted to meet you."
I stop eating and look at Clare. She looks back at me, serene, angelic, perfectly at ease. "Are we going to get married?"
"I assume so," she replies. "You've been telling me for years that whenever it is you're coming from, you're married to me."
Too much. This is too much. I close my eyes and will myself to think of nothing; the last thing I want is to lose my grip on the here and now.
"Henry? Henry, are you okay?" I feel Clare sliding onto the seat beside me. I open my eyes and she grips my hands strongly in hers. I look at her hands and see that they are the hands of a laborer, rough and chapped. "Henry, I'm sorry, I just can't get used to this. It's so opposite. I mean, all my life you've been the one who knew everything and I sort of forgot that tonight maybe I should go slow." She smiles. "Actually, almost the last thing you said to me before you left was 'Have mercy, Clare.' You said it in your quoting voice, and I guess now that I think of it you must have been quoting me." She continues to hold my hands. She looks at me with eagerness; with love. I feel profoundly humble.
"Could we back up? Could we pretend that this is a normal first date between two normal people?"
"Okay." Clare gets up and goes back to her side of the table. She sits up straight and tries not to smile.
"Um, right. Gee, ah, Clare, ah, tell me about yourself. Hobbies? Pets? Unusual sexual proclivities?"
"Find out for yourself."
"Right. Let's see . . . where do you go to school? What are you studying?"
"I'm at the School of the Art Institute; I've been doing sculpture, and I've just started to study papermaking."
"Cool. What's your work like?"
For the first time, Clare seem uncomfortable. "It's kind of. . . big, and it's about. . . birds." She looks at the table, then takes a sip of tea.
"Well, really it's about, um, longing." She is still not looking at me, so I change the subject.
"Tell more about your family."
"Okay." Clare relaxes, smiles. "Well . . . my family lives in Michigan, by a small town on the lake called South Haven. Our house is in an unincorporated area outside the town, actually. It originally belonged to my mother's parents, my Grandpa and Grandma Meagram. He died before I was born, and she lived with us until she died. I was seventeen. My grandpa was a lawyer, and my dad is a lawyer; my dad met my mom when he came to work for Grandpa."
"So he married the boss's daughter."
"Yeah. Actually, I sometimes wonder if he really married the boss's house. My mom is an only child, and the house is sort of amazing; it's in a lot of books on the Arts and Crafts movement."
"Does it have a name? Who built it?"
"It's called Meadowlark House, and it was built in 1896 by Peter Wyns."
"Wow. I've seen pictures of it. It was built for one of the Henderson family, right?"
"Yes. It was a wedding present for Mary Henderson and Dieter Bascombe. They divorced two years after they moved in and sold the house."
Excerpted from The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Copyright Audrey Niffenegger 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without permission from the publisher, MacAdam Cage.
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