Barnabas Collins stood leaning on the banister that led to the second floor of the Old House.
Julia, his wife of the past twenty-five years, sat at her dressing table in the upstairs bedroom suite putting the finishing touches to her now-faded auburn hair.
"Julia, do you hear me?" her husband said, even more loudly this time.
She smiled to herself, wondering how a man who had now lived more than two hundred years and had mastered every imaginable challenge in life had somehow never managed to master the art and virtue of patience.
"That plane doesn't leave for another two hours," Julia called down to him. "Will you please calm down."
"This is not a time for calming down, my dear," Barnabas said, entering the bedroom. "This is THE day ... the one we have waited for."
It was an important day, to say the least. On this day in June, 1996, their son, Barnabas Jonathan Collins, was graduating from law school.
"There," Julia said, standing up for one final look in the mirror. "I'm ready. And with plenty of time to spare. I hope Jonny has more patience with his future clients, or else his future career doesn't look too promising."
"Here," she quickly added, handing Barnabas her best string of pearls. "Help me with this, please."
"Of course," Barnabas answered, suddenly looking a little ashamed of himself.
"I'm sorry if I seem impatient at times. It's never my intent to make you feel anything but total happiness. Can you forgive me?" he asked, closing the clasp on the necklace and gently kissing the back of her neck.
"There's nothing to forgive," Julia said as she turned and placed her arms around his neck. "I know how important this day is for you ... for Jonny ... for all of us. I just want you to slow down a little so you can enjoy it and savor every moment of this day."
Barnabas held her in a tight embrace.
"Did you visit Patrick this morning?", she softly asked.
"Yes, I did," Barnabas answered, pulling Julia closer to himself. "I sat with him for quit a while."
Then there was silence between them.
Once downstairs, Julia gathered her clutchbag and camera. After Barnabas loaded their luggage in the car, he came back into the house.
"Do you have our plane tickets?" he asked.
"Film! Where's the extra film?"
"In my carry-on bag."
"Do you have everything all set up with Nomi?"
"She's meeting us there at the school. You were in such a rush before, now can we just get out of here?"
It seemed like no time before the plane lifted off with Julia and Barnabas on board. Barnabas in the window seat, as always. In spite of the hundreds of air-hours she had logged over the years, Julia was still a reluctant flyer.
Barnabas reached in the pocket of his jacket for his reading glasses and began reading the New York Times he had bought at the terminal. How handsome he looked, Julia thought to herself. The glasses, the tint of gray in his hair, both signs of the natural aging process that had slowly been developing since her final experiment to cure him had worked permanently. But she truly felt that these things merely added to the irresistable attraction she had felt for him from the moment she first met him in 1967.
She could never have imagined in those days the twists and turns her life would take. The endless working at the Wyndcliffe Sanitarium had made her want to break free and for once in her regimented life do something adventurous. When she first began treating Maggie Evans, she couldn't have known that the path of this journey would lead her to more adventure, more terror, more love than most people could find in ten lifetimes.
Julia reached in her bag for the current novel she was reading and opened it to where she had left off. She stared at the written page, but didn't see a single word on it, for her thoughts were a million miles away.
Her mind went back over the last thirty-two years. For Julia, that's when her life really began. She had fallen in love with Barnabas instantly.
She had grown up as the only child of two physicians in Boston. Both parents were so ensconced in their work that they had precious little time for the daughter who at times had seemed more like an accident in their lives than an offspring to be cherished and loved. Still, they had provided well for her needs -- nice clothing, the best of schools, all the material things that a child could need.
But the home of Doctors Stanton and Anna Hoffman was a cold and seemingly icey place to grow up. No affection was ever displayed, and Julia could never remember being rocked or hugged, even by her mother. So her childhood had been spent entertaining herself -- mostly reading her beloved books when she had completed her school studies. A lonely existence for a child. So lonely, in fact, that when her parents were killed in a plane crash in 1965, she did not grieve for them or even miss then as most people do at the passing of their parents. But by then, Julia was a doctor herself and living in Maine, where she worked at Wyndcliffe.
When she came to Collinwood in 1967, she discovered the family she had never had, but had wanted so desperately. Most people would have found the Collins family a bit on the eccentric side, perhaps even strange. But being from the Hoffman family, Julia was no stranger to oddness. And at least the Collins clan seemed close ... unified ... with a deep sense of their past, their roots. And for once, Julia found herself in a home and in a family.
And then there was Barnabas.
He and Julia had been through so much together -- and she never thought she would live to see the day when she would become Mrs. Barnabas Collins. There had been others who might have worn that title. Beautiful women ... the type who look like they belonged on the great estate and would have more befitted the role of Mistress of the Old House. Victoria Winters ... Maggie Evans ... Roxanne Drew ... Angelique Bouchard ... Josette DuPres. Yes, there was always Josette. But Julia had been the one who won the heart of Barnabas Collins. And he had long ago put to rest her intimidation of these lovely women.
With Barnabas, Julia felt a security she had never known. Within his love, she had found the safe harbor for which her soul had searched a lifetime. He had given her the greatest gift of all. And all those years of being the plain little girl who never fit in and the unwanted child who never felt at home vanished with just three words from this man. "I love you". He had said it every day of these last twenty-five years. But even if he had never uttered those words again after the first time, it would have been enough for Julia Hoffman to live on for the rest of her life.
Her mind now went to the three children she had given her husband.
Handsome Barnabas Jonathan Collins, their oldest, now twenty-four years old and graduating from law school today. She would never have admitted it to anyone, not even her husband, but Jonny had always been Julia's favorite. Tall and strong like his father, he possessed an inner strength that made his mother feel that she was given a chance to see what Barnabas would have been like growing up. Jon was always the most serious of their children. Tall and handsome, he was the image of Barnabas. Reason enough for Julia to worship him. His character and ideals left no doubt to anyone who met him that this was a true Collins in every sense of the word. He was a good son, and a good person.
Next came Patrick. My poor, poor Patrick, Julia thought to herself. They had named him Patrick Hoffman Collins, and Barnabas felt the sun rose and set for this boy. He embodied the softer side of his father, the sensitivity of Barnabas that few people ever saw. It was his nature to be kind-hearted and giving, to forever be the peacemaker, to always look for the good in people. He, too, looked so much like Barnabas, and so resembled Jon to the point that, with there being only ten months separating them in age, most people thought they were twins while growing up.
And the youngest of the Collins children was Nomi. Their beloved, darling Nomi. When their daughter was born, Julia had suggested naming her Sarah Collins, after the child's aunt who had died so long ago. But Barnabas felt that his daughter would never have her own identity if they chose that name. And so he asked if they could name her after his mother instead. So the baby girl became Naomi Dawn Collins -- Julia insisting on Dawn because that was now Barnabas' favorite time of the day. Not able to pronounce Naomi, her brothers could only manage to say Nomi, and so the nickname stuck. Nomi had the dark hair and strong features of her Collins ancestry. But she also had th iron will of her own, like Julia. She was now twenty-two years old, smart and athletic. She had been popular through high school and at Boston University, where she had graduated two months earlier with a degree in journalism.
And now both Nomi and Jon would be returning to Collinsport -- Nomi to work as a report for the local newspaper, and Jon ... well, at least he would be home for the summer while he applied for work as an attorney with various law firms in New York.
The flight attendant began going from seat to seat, telling the passengers to fasten their seatbelts because they would soon be landing.
The plane touched down in Atlanta, and Julia and Barnabas went from the plane to the terminal to collect their luggage. They then took a taxi to the hotel where they had previously made reservations.
Their rooms were nice and comfortable. Nothing as opulant as their own home on the Collins estate, but nice just the same. It was a suite of rooms, consisting of the bedroom, bath, and in front a nice sitting room with sofa, chairs and a television.
Julia began to unpack their things while Barnabas put in a telephone call to their oldest child. Julia listened, sensing the pride in Barnabas' voice.
"Jon ... yes, we're here. We landed about thirty minutes ago, and we're at the hotel now ..... Yes, your mother did fine. It was a very easy flight .... That sounds good. We'll see you there."
Then pausing for a few seconds, he quickly added, "Jon, there has never been a day of your life when I did not feel proud of you, when I did not feel that I was the most fortunate father in the world. But today is special. I love you. I'm proud of you. I just wanted to say so, because today will be so hectic that there might not be time for sentimentality later."
Hanging up, he turned to Julia. "Jon sends his love to you, and has invited us to a 'Parents Tea' at the Dean's home. It starts in one hour. Can you be ready, Dearest?"
"Oh, I can't wait to see Jonny!" Julia exclaimed. "I can be ready."
Just then, they heard someone knocking, rather pounding, on their door. Julia went to answer it.
"Mummie!" an exhuberant Nomi shreaked as she bounded into the room. "How beautiful you look! I couldn't wait to see both of you. I had the desk clerk call me in my room as soon as you checked in."
Barnabas stepped in from the bedroom.
"Did I hear my baby's voice in here?"
"DADDY!" Nomi went running to him, hugging him as tightly as she could. "Oh Daddy, I have so much to tell you and Mummie! So much has happened since my graduation, and I just don't even know where to begin."
"The beginning is always a nice place to start", Barnabas said, smiling at her.
Even from across the room, it was obvious to Julia that there was a special relationship between father and daughter. It had always been this way. She and her daughter had always been close, but when Nomi had a hurt to heal or a secret to share, she clearly became a 'Daddy's girl' only.
"Not today," Nomi said. "This is Jonny's day, and he should have all the attention. Besides, I can't really share my good news until we return to Collinwood. I'm going home with you, you know. And then you'll know everything."
"Why do I get the distinct feeling that this big 'SECRET' has something to do with love?" Barnabas said, squeezing Nomi to him.
"Oh Daddy, you know me as no other does," she said. "You can always figure me out."
Julia came over to them. "Have you met someone, Dear? Is your Father right? You're in love?"
"Well .... YES! I am in love. And Daddy and Mummie, I know this is exactly how you two must have felt when you met. This isn't a crush or anything, this is the real thing!"
"We'll definitely talk more about this later," Julia said. "I want to hear every word about this wonderful mystery man. But right now, we're due at a parents event at the Dean's home. We have to leave right now to meet Jonny".
Within twenty minutes, they were ready to leave. Nomi returned to her room, promising to meet her parents at the University's auditorium for the 7:00 p.m. graduation ceremony.
It was a short walk to the address Jon had given them. They were pleased to see their son waiting on the front porch. When he saw them coming, he ran down the front steps to meet them.
"I'm so happy you could be here for this," Jon said, giving Julia a kiss. "I want everyone to meet you." He reached over and gave Barnabas a hug.
Going into the lovely antibellum home, Jon circled the room, proudly introducing everyone to his parents. "Professor, this is my parents, Mr. & Mrs. Barnabas Collins, from Maine."
After so many years of marriage, Julia still delighted in hearing herself introduced as 'Mrs. Barnabas Collins'. To her, these were the most beautiful words in all the world.
The tea lasted for around an hour and a half, and Barnabas and Julia had the opportunity to meet each of Jon's professors and all the friends he had made during his years at the school.
Afterwards, they returned to their rooms to get ready for the graduation services, and Jon went to his fraturnity house to get ready as well.
Arriving at the auditorium at 6:30, Nomi was there as she had promised to be. "I'm holding our seats," she said. "We're right up front so we can see everything. And you'll be able to get great pictures from there. You'll find a big surprise when you get to the seats, too!"
They went inside, and there certainly was a surprise waiting for them. There in one of the seats sat Quentin Collins.
"Quentin!" Barnabas said, sounding truly surprised. "I had no idea you would be here!"
"I could hardly miss my godson's graduation, now could I?" Quentin said, reaching over to give Julia a hug.
Soon the ceremonies began. Prayers by the chaplins, long speaches by faculty members, and soon the moment they had waited for. They waited eagerly as each student's name was called. Finally it was their time.
"Barnabas Jonathan Collins". The name was called, and Jon walked across the stage in his cap and gown, his cum laude tassles hung around his robe, looking more handsome and more grown up than Julia had ever seen him. Barnabas slipped his arm around Julia, and they watched proudly as Jon shook hands with the presentor and made his way back to the alternate side of the stage, returnng to his seat.
Nomi had taken over the camera duties, so Julia had not missed a single second of it. She wiped tears away, looking up at Barnabas, whose eyes also seemed moist.
As they got into bed that night, Julia could only think of how blessed she and Barnabas were. And though they had spent a wonderful day in Atlanta, she suddenly missed Collinsport very much. But tomorrow would come soon enough, and then she and Barnabas would board the plane for their return flight -- only this time, Jon and Nomi would be on board with them.
Julia and Barnabas again sat next to each other on the plane, with Quentin on the other side of Julia. The children sat in the two seats in front of them. All the way to Bangor, they could hear Nomi chattering away with Jon, and Jon teasing her (probably his favorite 'sport' was teasing his little sister).
"It seems like old times, "Barnabas said, "having the two of them with us again. It is a wonderful feeling, isn't it?"
"Oh yes," Julia replied. "This is going to be the best summer".
Arriving in Bangor, they loaded up in their car which they had left at the airport.
They dropped Quentin off at Collinwood.
"Now don't forget, dinner here tonight. All of you."
"We'll be here," Julia assured him. "And Quentin, thank you again for being there. You made Jon so happy."
"You sure did," Jon added. "Next to my parents, I can't think of anyone I would rather have been there for me."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world", Quentin said, with his infectious smile. "I'll see you all back here tonight at 6:00."
They drove up to the Old House, and Jon and Nomi both commented on how good it felt to be home. No matter where on earth you go, only Collinsport is truly home for a Collins.
While everyone went in and went to their rooms to unpack, Barnabas said to Julia, "I'm going to Patrick now. I'll be back within an hour."
After a few minutes, Jon and Nomi came downstairs. Julia was sitting in the living room.
"Are you okay, Mummie?" Jon asked.
"Where's Daddy?" Nomi inquired.
"He's with Patrick," Julia told them. "You two stay here. I'm going to join him for awhile."
"Take all the time you need," Jon said. "And tell Father that we love him. And that we understand that he needs to be there now."
Julia took the path that led from the back of the house to Widow's Hill. Entering the Eagle Hill Cemetery, she made her way past countless markers ... some there for centuries, some from recent years. She passed the Collins mausoleum, where the journey for Barnabas had begun so long ago, and where the former mistress of Collinwood, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, now lay in rest for eternity.
From there, she could see her husband. Barnabas was sitting on the ground next to a simply marked grave. She walked up and stood behind him, looking at the stone on the grave.
Never looking up, Barnabas could sense her presence.
"A day never passes that I do not miss him," Barnabas said softly. "That I do not feel responsible for this".
"It's not your fault, my Darling," Julia said, knealing down and taking his hand. "Leukemia is disease, not a curse. I know you feel you had something to do with this, but how could you? We all must die at some point, Barnabas. For some, it's premature. But you had nothing to do with this. Nothing whatsoever".
"I wish I could join you in that belief, Julia," Barnabas said. "But you heard the doctor when he told us what Patrick had. He said it acted like leukemia. He also said that he had never seen cells like this in the bloodstream before. Whatever cells was in Patrick's blood, I passed on to him. You and I both know that."
"I do not know that," Julia quickly defended. "I only know that Patrick was not as you were. He got sick, they said it was a unique form of leukemia, and that's all I know. If you had passed this along, why would it have just affected Patrick? Jon and Nomi are both healthy and fine. Besides, you were cured long before Patrick was born. Totally cured. How could you have passed something along that you no longer carried? Barnabas, you must stop feeling this way. You are not resonsible!"
"Then why do I feel like this every day of my life?" Barnabas asked, not really directing it as a question. "And why was my son taken from me? Have you ever heard of 'sins of the father', Julia? Patrick paid the price for my curse. I will always believe that. And I will live with that guilt for as long as I live."
"I suppose I can't change the way you feel about this," Julia said, trying to be reassuring. "But coming out here every day to sit with Patrick and dwell on your guilt does no good for anyone. We have another son and a daughter who need you, who depend on you, who love you. And they're starting lives of their own now. Can't today be a new dawning for all of us? Can't we put the past behind us, and live in the present?"
"Forget Patrick? Forget what happened?" Barnabas questioned.
"Oh Barnabas, we will never forget Patrick! I love him, too! He was my son as well. But when we remember him, it should be for his life ... not his death."
"A new dawning ...." said Barnabas, thoughtfully. "Perhaps you're right. It is what Patrick himself would want for all of us. I have to believe that, if nothing else."
"Let's go home," Julia said, as she rose up. "We're due at Collinwood shortly, and I know Nomi and Jon want to be with you. They understand why you have to be here, but Barnabas, don't shut them out."
When they walked into the Old House, both children came to the foyer and hugged their father.
"I'm sorry if I seemed to ...." Barnabas began.
"You don't have to say anything," Jon interrupted. "We understand. We just want you to know how much we love you, and how much we care about you."
Nomi added, "It just hurts us to see you this way, Daddy. But whatever you have to do, even if you want to pitch a tent and live out there with Patrick, we support you in it, and we're here when you need us".
With an arm around each child, Barnabas looked at Julia.
"A new dawning," he said. "You were right. I am the most fortunate man on earth right now. No one could have a more wonderful family or feel more love than I do right now."
"We've always been right here for you, Dear," Julia said.
"Come," Barnabas said. "Let's walk over to Collinwood, and continue this celebration of our young man here."
Upon arriving at Collinwood, Quentin answered the door. "Right on time, as usual," he said. "Let's go on into the dining room."
When the great doors were opened, Barnabas' family was surprised to see so many people. Quentin had planned a surprise party in honor of Jon, and everyone had turned out for this occasion ...
Roger Collins, now semi-retired and helping his son David with the day-to-day operations at Collins Enterprises. He travels a lot frequently to exhotic places and he spends time working on his exstensive wine collection.
David Collins, now in his 40s, heads Collins Enterprises -- the cannery, shipping business, etc. A playboy, like his father before him, he dates countless young ladies from Collinsport to Bangor.
Carolyn Stoddard Hawkes, the new mistress of Collinwood, as the estate was left to her at the death of her mother, Elizabeth. She never remarried after the death of her husband, Jeb. She now is an author, writing a series of childrens book.
Willie Loomis, now the caretaker for the grounds. Never married, he lives in the cottage on the Estate.
Quentin & Maggie Collins. Quentin met and married Maggie Evans on her release from Wydcliffe. Blissfully happy, they live in the West Wing of Collinwood.
The party was underway, with food, drinks and the warmth of family love.
After dinner, Roger announced that it was time for "Brandies, all around".
"None for me," Jon said said the snifters were being passed around. "I don't drink."
"Me either," added Nomi.
"A Collins with no taste for brandy?" Roger said, as though personally insulted. "I've never heard of such a thing."
Nonplusd by this new revelation, Roger continued. "Well at least allow the rest of us the plesure of toasting to your recent accomplishment and to your future success".
"Here, here!" Quentin said, joining Roger as temporary master-of-ceremonies. "And so, in toasting the 'Man of the Hour', my godson, we toast the future of the Collins family as well. To the Collins Family!"
And everyone, raising their glasses in agreement, said in chorus, "To the Collins Family!"
"And now, it's time for gift-giving", Roger announced, handing an envelope to Jon. "Just a little something from myself".
Jon opened the envelope, and looked at Roger with obvious disbelief and joy. "Oh Uncle Roger! Thank you. But this is too much", and he hugged Roger tightly.
"Nonsense," Roger said, returning the hug. "As a Collins, it's time you share in the family business."
"Look, Father", Jon passed the envelope to Barnabas.
"What do we have here? Let me get my glasses," Barnabas said, reaching into his vest pocket.
"Oh Daddy," Nomi laughed. "You're as blind as a bat!"
Barnabas and Julia exchanged glances and smiles.
"A bat? What an odd expression," Barnabas said, winking at Julia.
Barnabas read the certificate that Roger had given Jon. They were stock in Collins Enterprises. Jon now held considerable holdings in the family business.
The party continued until around eleven o'clock, and after saying their thank you's and goodnight's, Barnabas and his family began their walk back to the Old House.
Walking home, Jon told his parents that David had approached him about a job with Collins Enterprises.
Julia was instantly excited at the prospects of having Jon living at home again. She had dreaded losing him to New York City. But Barnabas wished not to appear too excited about it. He wanted the decision to be completely Jon's.
"How would you feel about being the attorney for the family holdings?" Barnabas asked.
"I'm not sure," Jon admitted honestly. "I like the idea of being involved with the family business and all. But I'd like to take some pride in thinking that I made it on my own, and not on my family name. I'm going to think about it this summer, maybe spend some time at the offices with David and see how I like it. Thanks to Uncle Roger, I'll always be in the business at some level. Wherever I end up practicing law, one thing's for sure. I'll always be a Collins, and there will always be time for Collins Enterprises later in my life".
"I'm sure you will make the best decision for yourself, Jon," Barnabas told him. "But if you feel you need counsel, I am here for you. All you need do is ask for my help or opinion".
"Thank you, Father," Jon said.
Nomi saw this as an oportune time to jump into the conversation.
"Speaking of always being a Collins," she began. "Remember I told you that my friend was coming to Collinsport to see me? Well, I talked to him this afternoon, and he'll be arriving from Boston tomorrow evening. Now promise me you'll be nice to him and not scare him off".
"Well, I haven't scared anyone off from the Old House in quite a few years now, have I Julia?" Barnabas teased.
"That hasn't happened for some time now, Dear," Julia joined in. "I'll try to help control your Father, Nomi. I won't let him scare this young man too badly".
Nomi just laughed. "I've got the best parents in the whole wide world," she said.
And reaching home, they went in and each went to bed.
The next day was a flurry of activity. Julia and Nomi rose early and went to the market to purchase the needed items for preparing that evening's dinner for Nomi's boyfriend. Barnabas and Jon spent the day in town at the business office with David.
That evening, a knock came at the door. Nomi flew like the wind the answer it.
"We have such a graceful feminine daughter," Barnabas whispered to Julia. "Whatever happened to a young lady allowing her gentleman caller to be to aggressive one?"
"We live in another age now, Barnabas," Julia said. "Remember what century you're in now."
"I'll try to remember that," he replied. "Still, I would think that some things should not change that much".
Nomi came in with her young beau. He was around twenty-five years old, of medium height, slender and very neat in appearance. Julia also thought he was very attractive, and felt that he and Nomi looked like the ideal couple.
"Mummie, Daddy, I'd like for you to meet Christian Jenner. We met on the campus in Boston, and have been going together for about six months now. He tutors there at B.U., and we just ran into each other one day. Christian, these are my parents".
The family shared an enjoyable evening, regaling in old family stories and embarassing Nomi with tales from her childhood. Barnabas and Julia were pleasantly surprised in what a charming young man their daughter had allowed to enter into her heart.
"I'd say she inherited her mother's excellent taste in men," Julia whispered to Barnabas.
Barnabas pulled her over and kissed the side of her head, in inaudible agreement.
They learned much about this new suitor, and already liked him very much. He told them a lot about himself, and they appreciated how comfortable he seemed to be with them. He was a native Bostonian who graduated from Harvard two years ago, and was a writer. In fact, two of his works had already been published.
"Hmm," Julia thought to herself, "a wonderful personality, a handsome appearance, a good education and a promising future. Just what I've wanted for the one Nomi would eventually fall in love with".
By the next afternoon, Christian seemed more like one of their own children than a houseguest. In the moring, Nomi and Chrisian went into town with Jon to explore the two local bookstores. After that, they planned to stop by Collinwood around noontime to introduce the new arrival to Uncle Roger and Uncle Quentin and to get their approval, as well. The children, although only cousins to these men, had always referred to them as their uncles. The age difference between them made this seem the most natural thing in the world -- and besides, Roger and Quentin both clearly adored the children of Barnabas, and were all to happy to to have the title of "uncle" attached to their names.
By mid-afternoon, the trio returned home. Jon was meeting an old high school friend at the Blue Whale (still the most popular nighttime haunt in Collinsport), so he left shortly after they got back home.
Nomi and Christian were sitting in the living room with her parents.
"Mommie, why don't we go on in and start planning something for dinner," Nomi said so suddenly that it almost seemed staged.
"We have a few hours, dear," Julia said to her. "Why don't you just relax for awhile. You must be exhausted from the busy day you've had so far."
"No, I think we should go check out the kitchen now. Really I do," Nomi said, almost pleading. "Besides, Christian wants some time with Daddy alone".
"Oh, I see," Julia said, thoughtfully. "Well, in that case, let's go stick our heads in the freezer and see what we can come up with".
And they got up and walked out of the room, Julia squeezing Barnabas on the arm as she went by.
"So Christian, you wanted to speak with me?" Barnabas asked, thinking it would be easier on the boy if he opened up the conversation.
"As a matter of fact, I do, Sir," he began. "I would appreciate it if you would hear me out before you make any comment. But as Nomi has told you, we have been seeing each other for around six months now. And I'm certain it must be obvious to you and to Mrs. Collins, as well, the depths of my feelings for your daughter."
Banabas nodded his head without saying a word.
Christian continued. "The truth is, Sir, that I love her very, very much. And though it surprised even me, she loves me just as much in return. I know we can be happy together, and I can assure you that I can provide well for her. Your daughter will never want for anything. And so, Sir, I would like to ask for Nomi's hand in marriage."
Barnabas started to speak, but Christian continued.
"If there would be any reason why you can not consent to our marriage, I promise you I will understand completely and will abide by your wishes. But I feel it fair to tell you that it wouldn't mean I would give up. I would just wait awhile and try to prove myself to you. I know you would only be thinking of what's best for your daughter, and I ..."
"May I speak now?" Barbabas interrupted.
"Of course," Christian said, pausing for a breath.
"You have proven yourself splendidly," Barnabas said. "And although I do not usually speak for my wife, I think in this situation I might know her answer in advance. Yes, you have our ... well, our permission, if that is what you are asking. At any rate, you and Naomi have our blessing to be married."
"Oh thank you, Sir. Thank you. I'm rather old-fashioned, and I felt that asking you was something I wanted to do. It seemed the right thing to do."
"Well, I tend to be somewhat old-fashioned myself. In fact, my daughter often reminds me that I seem like someone from another century", Barnabas smiled.
"There is one other thing I wanted to discuss with you," Christian said, rather nervously. "It has nothng to do with Nomi, but is something about me."
"About you?" Barnabas looked surprised.
"Well, I haven't exactly been honest with Nomi about something. When we first met, she told me all about her wonderful family in Maine, and about her hometown. And I acted surprised and interested with everything. But the truth of the matter is, I know a great deal about Collinsport and about the people who live at Collinwood".
"And how did this particular knowledge come into existance?" Barnabas questioned.
"Christian Jenner is not my real name," the explanation began. "I guess it is in a way, because my name was legally changed when I was a child. But my father is from Collinsport. He lived here for quite awhile before he married my mother. Mr. Collins, I've never had the nerve to look into this, but I think my father was in trouble with the police here in town. Maybe he was even a convict, or an escaped prisoner or something."
Barnabas made an attempt to seem unruffled by this information. But his curiosity was aroused. "I'm afraid you have lost me, Christian. Whoever your father may be, or whatever he might have done, I am certain beyond a doubt that it in no way affects you. Now tell me, how can I help you with this? What can I do to put your mind at rest?"
"You might be able to help me, Mr. Collins. You can start by telling me exactly what it was my father did here in Collinsport that has kept him running his entire life."
Barnabas began to feel very uneasy with this sudden turn of events.
"How on earth would I know what your father did? I never heard of you until yesterday. And I have no idea who your father is."
"You know him," Christian said. "Well, I guess it would be better to say that you knew him. He used to speak of you when I was a child. That's when he lived with my mother and I. Then my mother was found murdered one night, and I never saw my father again. He left town, and I was left to be raised by my mother's parents."
"Your mother ... murdered?" Barnabas looked horrified.
"Yes, it's a painful memory, as you can imagine. I've never spoken of it to anyone before. Nomi just thinks my parents were killed when I was a child, and that's why I lived with my grandparents. But my father just ran after that. The Boston police were looking for him for years. I don't know, maybe they're still looking".
"Then they feel that your father was responsible for ..."
"Yes, they said that he was the only suspect for her murder," Christian suddenly had tears in his eyes. "I loved my mother very much. I don't know what would have brought my father into such a rage that he would have killed her. He was always the most wonderful person. Never angry at anyone, never yelled at me ... or at her. His only fault was that he would get very moody from time to time, and then he would leave for a few days. But when he returned, he was always his old self again."
"And you never knew where he went when he left?"
"No. And he never acted like anything was wrong once he returned. But I have to find out about his problems here in Collinsport. I have to know if there's ever a chance I could turn out to be be anything like him. Will you help me, Mr. Collins? For God's sake, will you help me?"
"I will. Whatever I can do, and whatever it takes, I will help you. Now, about your father. I'll have to know who he is. Are you ready to share that with me?" Barnabas said, with all the kindness and sympathy that anyone had ever shown Christian before in his life. "You can trust me, Son. Can you believe that?"
"I trust you so much already," he answered. "My name, Mr. Collins. My real name. It's ........"
Julia and Nomi were in the kitchen laughing and talking and already making plans for an end-of-the-year wedding. Nomi had not been able to keep the news from Julia, as if Julia had not already guessed what it was that Christian needed to speak to Barnabas about.
Barnabas slowly walked into the kitchen, looking more than a little shaken.
"Barnabas, what is it?" Julia said, knowing him so well that she could immediately tell when something was wrong, terribly wrong.
"You didn't say NO, did you Daddy? Please tell me you didn't do that", Nomi said, looking as if she might burst into tears at any second.
"Of course, not, my darling," Barnabas could only whisper. "Christian is in my study. Go, be happy together."
"Daddy, you are so WONDERFUL!" Nomi shouted as she bound out of the room.
Barnabas took Julia by the hand and walked out the back door with her.
"Stop right here," Julia insisted. "I MUST know what's wrong with you. I haven't seen you look like this in years. Is something wrong? What has upset you so badly?"
"Christian, Christian is," and then silence.
"Christian is WHAT?" Julia said in a demanding voice. "What could he have said that could possibly be so bad?"
"That is not even his name," Barnabas said, and Julia could almost detect panic in his eyes.
"Not his name? What are we talking about here? Someone changes their name, and you react like this?"
"His name, Julia," Barnabas said, grabbing Julia and pressing her to himself as tightly as she had ever been held, "His real name is CHRISTOPHER JENNINGS, JR.!"