A Matter of Perspective
"She never had children of her own so now she's trying to steal ours," Sheila's shrill voice carried through the night air, despite her attempt to whisper.
"Steal? Don't you think that's a little harsh?" Her sister-in-law Iris's deeper voice just reached the open window where Genevieve stood in shadow, sipping a glass of wine and listening to her brother's wives discuss her influence on their children.
She couldn't help chuckling to herself. Sheila really was a little twit, she thought. Nice of Iris to defend her, but she lacked imagination. It was no surprise both of their children enjoyed their aunt's company to that of their mothers.
But Sheila wasn't finished yet.
"Isn't it bad enough that our husband's care more about her opinion than about ours?" It was an old argument and Iris' sigh was audible in the dark stillness.
"She's their big sister, they let her say her piece, it doesn't mean that they don't do exactly what they planned to all along."
"Martin might, Adam changes his mind to match whatever she thinks it should be," Sheila snapped.
Genevieve had to admit she had a point. Martin had always been the more stubborn brother. Adam was easy to influence if you knew how to make an intelligent argument. He wasn't influenced by emotion, which was why his wife didn't find him easy to sway. With Martin you practically had to argue in the opposite direction to get him to do what you wanted. Iris didn't have the subtlety for such manipulation, nor could she easily spot it, which might be why she found Genevieve so much less threatening than Sheila did.
"You have to admit this trip was a generous gift," Iris continued in her calm, reasonable way.
"And so is her offer to take Sean to Africa with her," she added, more doubtfully.
"Would you want Michael running around Africa for months on end, eating and probably catching God knows what?!" Sheila sounded a little hysterical.
"Sean is seventeen," Iris replied, "Mikey is seven. And you know Sean's dying to go. He worked so hard to get good grades this past year, so she would take him. At least she made that a requirement. Genevieve won't let anything happen to him. You know she loves our kids."
"Oh yes, she loves them. Loves them so much she wants to make them hers!"
"Not really," Iris sounded exasperated now.
"So you have no problem with the fact that Miranda just spent a year of her life bumming around South America?"
"Central America," Genevieve corrected, under her breath.
Sheila knew this had been a sore point for Iris, but Iris didn't bite.
"I didn't love the idea at first, you know that. But she's had her gap year now, and she speaks Spanish quite well as a result, and that won't do her any harm when she goes looking for a job after university, if she keeps it up."
"I think it might have been good for her, really," she added, reluctantly.
"And what if she doesn't want to go to university, now that she's had her year of freedom? Then what?" Sheila demanded.
"Oh, she's going to university," stated Iris flatly.
"How do you plan to make her, if she doesn't want to," Sheila continued voicing the fears Iris preferred to avoid.
"She has to get a degree in a field that will allow her to support herself. She knows that. We've been telling her all her life," Iris insisted.
"Yes, you've told her, while you wore yourself to the bone working shifts at the hospital and Genevieve sent her exotic presents from around the world," Sheila wasn't even attempting to whisper anymore and Genevieve saw Iris make a shushing motion with her hand and glance in the direction of the house. They wouldn't see her, standing in the shadow of the curtain, in a room with no light on, and Genevieve smiled to herself, enjoying her surreptitious invisibility.
"Just because people think her travel books are funny, she gets to live this glamorous lifestyle, swanning around the world and never doing a day of real work," Sheila hissed more quietly but no less vehemently.
Genevieve snorted. Other than occasionally selling Tupperware or scented candles Sheila hadn't worked since she got pregnant in the first year of her marriage. Lucky for her Adam liked the idea of having his children home with their mother.
Genevieve turned from the open window to smile at her niece. Casually reaching out and pulling the window closed she let the curtain fall back into place, shutting out the tropical night.
"What's up honey?" she asked, clicking on a lamp and bathing the spare, simple room of the rented house with warm light.
"Aunty Gen, I don't know what to do!"
Miranda's face was the perfect picture of nineteen-year-old tragedy. Genevieve picked up the wine bottle from a side table and poured the rest of it into her glass before crossing to the rattan couch. She settled herself gracefully on one end of the seat and held out her hand to her niece.
"Tell me," she offered. Miranda joined her on the couch, sitting close enough to her aunt to rest her head briefly on her shoulder before sitting up and facing her squarely.
"Aunty Gen, I don't want to go to university this fall," she announced.
"Why not?" The question held no judgment, just honest curiosity.
"Because I don't know what to take! I know I don't want to be a nurse like my mom. I don't want to go into business or anything like that. The only thing that doesn't sound terrible is teaching, and if I was going to teach I would rather teach English in another country like I did in Nicaragua and Honduras. I wish you could get paid for that!"
"Oh, you can," Genevieve said calmly. "Not a lot, but enough to live on, if you're careful."
"Would I have to go to university to do that? Would I have to have a four-year degree?" Miranda demanded eagerly.
"It depends on where you want to teach, but the training you took while we were in Costa Rica, plus your volunteer hours in the other countries we've been too might be enough for some positions."
"You did keep your certificate and the reference letters like I told you too?" she added, treating it like a rhetorical question but still relieved when Miranda quickly nodded.
"Oh yes, I've got a file with everything, sample lesson plans and all. Do you really think I could do that!"
"It certainly wouldn't hurt to look into it," Genevieve said with a faint smile.
"Oh, Aunty Gen, do you think I could go to China?" Miranda was leaning forward now, her hands gripping each other in her excitement.
"It's definitely an option. Although you would make more money in Japan or South Korea."
"No, it has to be China!" Miranda insisted. "Not that I wouldn't love to see Japan and Korea too, but I've been dying to visit China ever since I read you book about sailing down the Yangtze!"
"I got dysentery on the Yangtze," Genevieve pointed out wryly.
"I know, it sounded amazing!"
Genevieve threw back her head and laughed. How could she argue with such youthful enthusiasm? She reached under the sofa, pulling her laptop out from where she had stashed it earlier, when she first heard voices in the garden.
Waking it up she said, "I know the government of China hires English teachers for its public schools, that would probably be the easiest way to get your visa approved."
Finding the site she was looking for she passed the laptop to her niece, watching over her shoulder as Miranda began to read.
The door to the living room swung open and a tousle haired small boy stood in the door way, rubbing his eyes.
"Mike," chided his aunt, "What are you doing out of bed?"
"Mum and Aunty Sheila are talking outside my window and Sean's snoring and I can't sleep," he grumbled.
"Your dad and Adam still not back from snook fishing yet?" she asked. He shook his dark blond curls.
"Alright," Genevieve caved. "Come curl up on the sofa until you fall asleep."
Miranda shifted to a chair to make room for her little brother, still glued to the laptop, poring over details of teaching opportunities in China.
Michael climbed onto the sofa and lay down, putting his head on his aunt's lap. Genevieve pulled the afghan off the wicker back of the sofa and spread it over him, then stroked his hair as he settled in, sipping her wine and listening to the tap of keys as Miranda planned her future.