42 Magnolia Avenue

Home of Alice Crick Watson, her 10 year old son, Charlie, and their assorted pets.

While Charlie finishes his dinner, Alice tries to make a dent in the accumulation of dirty dishes in the sink and get the boy to tell her about his day. He's forthcoming with opinions about music, film, sports and politics, but, she realizes, communicates nothing at all about his own life or emotions. Once again, she offers him the chance to talk to someone else-- a therapist-type person who might be able to help the boy deal with his anger and grief over the sudden and premature death, a year ago, of his father; and once again, Charlie makes it clear that he has no intention of being a willing participant in any such emptional showdown. He's doing just fine! Indeed, his mother admits, he is. She's just concerned that he's coping too well. Off the look of incredultiy from her son that he needs professional help on accounta he's well-adjusted and emotionally stable, she laughs. And hugs him and looks at the clock and realizes with dismay that she has three minutes to get dressed, made-up and psyched for the short-notice dinner invitation she had no choice but to accept from Charlotte Cliff. Only the timely appearance of Anais Grace saves Alice from a panic-attack of epic proportion.

Anais has been Charlie's babysitter since the week after he was born and the two have a special relationship. Alice wonders if Charlie has been able to confide something of his feelings to Anais who, after all, can be trusted not to repeat a word of what she hears. For one thing, she's a most discreet young woman and, for another, she hasn't uttered a word since that night when, aged two, she just mysteriously stopped speaking. In fact, Alice was the last person known to have had a verbal conversation with the girl and she can remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. That lilting, little girl voice reciting to her, "They're changing the guard at Buckingham Palace, Anais went down with Alice!" And then the musical laughter which no one has heard since...

Anais had been a mystery from the day she appeared as an infant on the steps of Sayers House to be raised collectively by Alice and her friends in the dorm for the next three years until they, members of an unofficial commune, graduated. Elizabeth and Maud had adopted her and the others -- Anais' extended family -- had all contributed to her upbringing and support as best they could...

But Alice has no more time to muse about Anais since she has reached 100 Cliff Drive where Charlotte Cliff, one of the Sayers Gang of '73, lives with her mother, Carlotta. Alice is fully aware that, old friends though she and Charlotte are, she is dining here tonight as the Cliff College Dean of Students and recently-appointed "Handler of the Sayers Hall Mess". And she knows that she is going to be told, in no uncertain terms, just what outcome Carlotta, President of the Cliff Board of Trustees, expects of her efforts in this matter.

Meanwhile, back at the Watsons' house, Anais and Charlie have just finished going through Alice's photo&memory album-- their favorite page commemorates New Year's Eve, 1985, when Charlie was just six weeks old. Now, they decide it's time to check out things online.