Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Five

2265098258_144895504c_oSeptember 1, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen,Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

The chilly evening air deceived her, making it feel like February instead of the end of March. Spring had arrived, but winter wanted to hang on a little while longer. She walked along the streets the few blocks to the coffee shop shivering, but in a good mood. A little nervous, perhaps but also excited about seeing Andrew and bringing up the DIH gala, but happy just the same.  If she were braver, she’d ask him to attend the gala with her, but the idea that he could attended as a featured author was a perfectly safe way to get him there.

When she reached the coffee shop, she glanced in the large window that faced the street and noticed that Andrew had already arrived. He sat in the back, seeping his tea bag in the hot water, with another placed cup placed in front of the chair across from him. Could he be with someone? Maybe Melissa? Perhaps she was in the ladies’ room. Jenny wanted to turn and run, but he spotted her and smiled. Too late. She had to go in. She proceeded slowly, feeling a range of emotions as she walked up to his table.

“I took a chance and ordered you a peppermint tea,” he said, pointing to the steaming cup. “I thought that’s what you had last time.”

She smiled and relaxed, realizing her paranoia turned out to be thoughtfulness on his part. “Peppermint tea is perfect,” she said. “Thank you.” Jenny unbuttoned her coat and sat across from him. He looked handsome in his navy blue sweater and khaki trousers.

“So how was the trip?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Nice, but different than I expected. You look great, by the way. I like the new hair style.”

She smiled, happy that he noticed, but wanting to focus on the task because his compliment embarrassed her a little. She noticed he described his trip as different, and he had to be referring to Melissa, or her absence.  She wondered how far she could push the issue and still seem unaware. “I am sorry to hear about you and Melissa,” she said, coming clean. That didn’t take long. She was honest to a fault. “She came to the book club last week and told me plans had changed and that you broke up.”

Andrew looked down, and she tried to gage the sadness on his face. She could see it clearly. He was hurt. “Thanks,” he said. “Yeah, that was the unexpected part. Turns out it was a business trip, after all.”

Jenny felt bad for him and had to look away from his sad face for a moment. “I shouldn’t have said anything,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m glad you did. I was unsure how to handle the situation, and I’m somewhat surprised she showed up at the book club. I expected that I had seen the last of her.”

“Maybe you have,” Jenny said, her honesty continuing. “She seemed a little upset and left the club at break.”

Andrew looked puzzled. “I’m not sure why she would be upset. What did she say?”

Jenny shrugged and picked up her cup to warm her hands. Somehow it seemed chillier in the shop than outside in the cool night air. It must have been her nerves. “Just that you broke up, and she was surprised by it, that’s all.”

Andrew let out a small, nervous laugh. “She was surprised? That’s funny. She broke up with me on the way to the airport the night before our flight.”

That was surprising news. Jenny had assumed Andrew broke up with Melissa. Andrew’s face told her all she needed to know though.  He was angry and hurt, and possibly, he wanted her back. “The book club discussion went well,” she said, feeling the need to change the subject — quick. “It’s obviously the club enjoys and respects your work. You’re very talented, you know. You should write more.” Yikes, maybe she was pouring it on a little thick, but she wanted to see him smile again.

“You know, that irks me to no end,” he said, not ready to let the conversation go. “She gives me an ultimatum that we need to be engaged by June or she’ll break up with me, and she acts like I broke her heart.”

Jenny stared straight ahead, feeling odd and at loss for words. Why did she tell him she knew they broke up? This wasn’t the conversation she wanted to have tonight.

“I told her I couldn’t commit to that kind of a timeline and that we hadn’t been dating that long, anyway.” He continued without needing a response. “I should have said I would think about it, but that would have been dishonest. We broke up in the cab right there. Then she calls me later begging me for another chance and telling me she’ll forgo the ultimatum. However, it was too late. It was out there and I didn’t think I could be with someone who would act so irrationally. And I told her that.”

Jenny sat still, listening to the half-crazed confession of the unraveling of their relationship. She should have been thrilled, but she wasn’t because Andrew seemed upset. He still had unresolved feelings for Melissa, which meant he wasn’t ready for another relationship. “Maybe it’s not too late,” she said making it feel as though she stabbed herself in the heart.

“I am sorry to unload that all on you,” he said, looking down. “I’m a bit embarrassed, Jenny. You didn’t come here tonight to listen to me ramble.”

She smiled. “It’s fine, Andrew. You needed to talk about it, and I don’t mind listening.” She took in his dark brown eyes and got lost in them. She wanted to reach over and take his hand, and even kiss him, and for a moment, she had the feeling he wanted that, too. He looked at her in that special way, she felt it for sure, but then he pulled away. “No harm done,” he said. “So, how did the book chat go?”

He switched gears so suddenly, and she went with the flow even though she had already told him it went well. “We had some good discussions, and I took some notes,” she said getting an envelope out of her pocket. “I think you would have been happy.”

He smiled a different kind of smile, one that didn’t seem warm like his others, but cool as she returned to being his pupil rather than his friend. “No doubt you did a great job,” he said. “You have a wonderful grasp of the material.”

Jenny felt uncomfortable, and wanted to get that warm feeling back from him. Right now seemed to be the perfect time to change the subject and talk about the DIH gala. She took a deep breath and let it go. “Are you familiar with the DIH?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said.

She smiled. “They are having their spring fund raiser in May. A friend of mine is organizing the event and your name came up as a possible guest speaker. They thought you might want to give a speech about your book, and autograph some at the gala.”

He nodded. “That is a good idea,” he said. “I’m impressed by the work they do and would like to help. When is it? I’ll check my schedule.”

“The first Saturday in May. Would that work?” She held her breath for a moment, hoping she would say yes.

“It’s near the end of the term, but it should be fine,” he said. “You can tell your friend to pencil me in and to give me a call with the details.”

Jenny smiled. “I’ll do that. Thank you, Andrew. And feel free to bring a date.” As soon as she said the words, she wanted to take them back, but it was too late. Not only didn’t she mean them, but he had just broken up with someone so it was if she had poured salt in both of their wounds.

He didn’t repond, which made her feel uncomfortable. At that moment, she looked out the window and saw one of her stepsister’s fiancés walking down the street looking chummy with a tall, slender brunette. He looked like he wanted to consume her, and it made Jenny even more uncomfortable. She was not sure at first which one he was but then she realized it was Roger, Sarah’s fiancé, and for the first time, she felt sorry for her stepsister.

“Is something wrong?” Andrew asked.

She looked back from the window and smiled. “I thought I just saw someone I knew.” Should she tell Sarah what she saw? The night was not going well at all. “So, tell me about England,” she replied hoping to get out of her head and back to this moment.

“It was nice. Chilly, as usual. But nice.”

“A good friend left for London earlier today. He put his house up for sale, and I’m not sure he’s coming back.”

“Wow, that’s a bold move,” Andrew said, and she felt that the warmth was back in his eyes. Moreover, she was glad.

“He’s originally from England, and his wife passed so he thought it best to return home for now. But yes, he it was a bold move nonetheless.”

“Have you ever been?”

Jenny shook her head. “I’m afraid my travels have been limited to the states.”

“There’s plenty of sites here to see,” he said. “But as an American History buff I guess I don’t have to tell you that.”

She smiled. “Niagara Falls is the most exotic place I’ve traveled to. I was six at the time. We didn’t make it to the Canadian side.”

He laughed. “You need to catch up on some traveling.”

She laughed, and for a moment forgot about her step sister’ cheating fiancé and Andrew’s sadness. “I have a passport, and I keep renewing it, so I guess I want to travel someday. There’s a possibility I’ll be traveling to Paris with my family later this spring before my step sisters’ wedding,” she said with a wide smile. Andrew had a way of making all of her troubles, even the ones concerning her stepsisters, disappear.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Four

text-message-web-crop-600x338August 28, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen, Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

“Jenny, we’ve got plans to make.”

The text message was cryptic, and if she did not know Mr. Hiller’s cell number, she would swear he had sent it. She had not recognized the number associated with the text, but thought it had to be from Charlotte. Unless Melissa sent it? The thought made her feel a bit uneasy, but she dismissed it quickly. Why would she send her a text about making plans, unless it involved staging a coup and overtaking the book club to throw Andrew out of office. What a ridiculous thought, and one that popped into her mind because Andrew came back from London last night. What was it with London and the men in her life anyway? Maybe Andrew sent it. They were supposed to meet him for coffee later that night.

While wallowing in thoughts, the door to the store opened ringing the familiar bell and Charlotte bounced in full of energy. “Hi, did you get my text? I wasn’t sure because I didn’t receive a reply”

Mystery solved. “I didn’t know who I’d be responding to,” Jenny replied with a smile. “I don’t recall giving you my cell number.”

Charlotte shrugged. “I’m a resourceful woman, what can I say.”

Jenny nodded. “I’m almost afraid to ask what is on your mind.” She said it playfully, but wondered in anticipation.

“You look phenomenal, by the way,” Charlotte said with a smile. “The hair is fab and I love the blouse.”

Jenny smiled, feeling instantly at ease. She wore a pair of classic cut black slacks and a white lace blouse that was the most figure-flattering thing she wore to date. It was all in preparation for her time tonight with Andrew.

“I wanted to let you know that I’ve hired a private investigator to look into a few things with the DIH board,” Charlotte replied.

Jenny was surprised. “Why would you do that? she asked.

“I’ve had my suspicions there’s been a problem for a while now, and if I’m correct, the gala will hold a lot more surprises than the unveiling of the real Carrie Grant.”

Jenny was intrigued and thought about the envelope Mr. Hiller gave her with information on Martha Chadwick and her husband. Should she tell Charlotte about it? Mr. Hiller said it had been information available in all of the newspapers anyway, so her private investigator may have uncovered it already if Martha Chadwick was on her list, and Jenny would never have to use it. Her fear was implicating Mr. Hiller in this mess. “Is it that serious? What do you suspect?”

Charlotte shrugged. “I’m not ready to divulge yet. It is just instinct anyway. But Martha and Elyse are as thick as thieves lately, even more so than usual, and it bothers me.” She looked a little flush, and Jenny realized this must be something big. “I’ll let you know once I have proof,” Charlotte continued, “if I get proof.”

Jenny offered a half-smile. “Have they ever pulled anything before?”

“I’m not sure, but perhaps the investigator will prove me right.”

Jenny decided to hold her information secret for now. It had been her own paranoia, or lack of self-esteem, but she remained a little fearful Charlotte would out her before the gala. It was improbable, especially now that she confided in her about hiring an investigator, but she had to be careful. Likely, she was being silly, but she couldn’t help but believe that Charlotte may be baiting her information.

The door swung open and Fiona breezed in foregoing her typical knock on the window if she was still in the store at the end of the day.

“I wanted to wish you luck tonight,” she said. “I’m sorry,” she added. “I didn’t realize you had a customer.”

“You’re not interrupting,” Charlotte said. “I’m a friend of Jenny’s and I stopped by with a quick message.” She looked at Jenny and smiled. “What’s happening tonight?” she asked.

Jenny shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”

Fiona laughed. “No big deal? It’s the biggest deal of your life!”

Jenny looked at Fiona with a look that begged her not to say more. She knew the woman had little filter, but still she acted surprised she spoke so in front of a woman she did not know.

Charlotte seemed intrigued. Looking at both of their happy faces, she was not sure she was happy to call these two woman friends, or horrified that they knew so much about her.

“Someone fill me in please,” Charlotte said with a grin, but almost making her request sound like a demand.

“I’m having coffee with Professor Gordon tonight. He runs our historic book club. He asked me to fill in for him while he was on vacation, and he wants to talk about how it went.”

“ Professor Gordon? Is that Andrew Gordon from Penn?” Charlotte asked.

Jenny prepared herself to hear something about the two of them dating at one time. “Yes, do you know him?” she asked.

Charlotte nodded. “By reputation,” she said. “He’s a historic scholar who’s helped out the DIH on a few occasions. You should mention that you know some of us.”

Jenny nodded.

Fiona laughed. “What she isn’t telling you is that she has a mad crush on him, and that he recently broke up with his girlfriend.”

“Fiona!” Jenny said even more shocked.

“Oh, Jenny, you do like him. You know it’s true,” Fiona said.

Charlotte offered a warm smile. “He’s a catch, so I can’t blame you there. He’s a good man who helps the community. Did you know he helped raise over $500,000 with his students to refurbish Christ Church where Benjamin Franklin’s burial plot is, but only if the church hall agreed to feed the homeless every Sunday after service, especially after the city passed that horrid law that you couldn’t feed them outside in Franklin Square.”

Historic Christ Church sat in Old City, near the Hall and Constitution Center, opened in 1695, the first church in Philadelphia. The DIH planned to get the bricks repointed this year with funds, but knowing Andrew wanted to feed the homeless there was more endearing.

“I didn’t know that,” Jenny said, yet it thrilled her to hear. Perhaps that’s where he got the idea to write a book about Benjamin Franklin.

“With him, the community always wins,” Charlotte said with a smile. “He’s one of the good ones, you know. Is he the reason for the wardrobe update?”

Jenny blushed. “It’s a business meeting,” Jenny said.

“But Jenny plans to make it more,” Fiona said.

“You’ve said enough,” Jenny said to her friend.

Fiona smiled. “You love me, you know you do.” Fiona blew a kiss, said goodbye, and ran out the door so she could get into her apartment from the street entrance.

“She’s right, Jenny, “Charlotte replied with a grin. “If you want more than a mentoring relationship, you need to let him know.”

“He just broke up with someone.”

“You know, you could ask him to the gala. You could phrase it in a way that it won’t be a date, but something he may be interested in attending.”

Sure, the idea seemed perfect, but Jenny could never pull it off and she knew it. “I’ll think about that,” she said.

“Or better yet, he has a new book out, right? The one about Franklin. You could ask him if he’d be interested doing a book signing at the event. Maybe some of the profits can be donated to the DIH charities.”

Jenny smiled. “That may work.” Jenny felt better about that scenario.

“I suppose that means you’ll be coming to our little gala,” Charlotte said with a sly grin behind it. “Will you be Carrie Grant or Jenny Hobbs?”

Jenny smiled. “I decided to go for it and do the big reveal,” she said.

Charlotte smiled. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, Jenny. I’ll call you tomorrow now that I have your cell to find out your date.” Charlotte walked toward the door with the stupid grin still present. “I have to run, but I’ll also be in touch when I find something about my suspicions.”

Jenny watched her new friend walk out of the store wondering how she’d pull all of this off. Moreover, wondering why she always had to run.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Three

courtAugust 25, 2015 –  Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen, Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty, Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Watching Mr. Hiller leave the store a few hours before had to be the most difficult thing Jenny faced since her father had passed away. She couldn’t stop thinking about never getting to see him again, no matter how hard she tried to push it out of her mind. She wanted to close the shop and run down the street, ring his doorbell and beg him not to leave. But she knew she couldn’t do that. He probably had last minute packing to do before leaving for the airport, and she had to be content with his visit this morning. Funny, he’d only come in to her life a few short months ago, but their bond was quick and she hoped permanent.

Lately, her life had been one surprise after the next. Maybe that excited most people, but she wasn’t used to it. You have to accept the good with the bad, she murmured to herself throughout the day, and she realized that Mr. Hiller had to make this trip or else he wouldn’t be going. That relieved some of the sadness. The issues with the DIH, her step sisters’ wedding and their insipid idea to go to Paris for a bachelorette party in a few weeks, along Mr. Hiller’s connection to Martha Chadwick all seemed minor compared to his latest bombshell. Strange occurrences, indeed, although she somehow knew Mr. Hiller would call them opportunities and scold her for not taking advantage of them. The DIH event was a grand gala that she should be proud to attend, and what crazy girl wouldn’t want to spend a week in Paris in the spring?

Jenny looked at the check in her hand and wondered what she should do. A quarter of a million dollars was a lot of money, more than she had ever seen in one lump sum, and she still did not know whether it was appropriate to accept it no matter how much he insisted. Part of her couldn’t help but think that it would provide a marvelous safety net to keep her store afloat in case she lost her best customers after introducing herself as Carrie Grant at the gala. He took her greatest fear away and provided with exactly what she needed, and she loved him for that. She’d put the check in her bank account and hold on to it for safety reasons. Then if all went well, she could donate it to a worthy charity in Mr. Hiller’s name.

Her eyes filled with tears thinking about his illness. He promised he would write and call and he never said he would be gone for good, but she knew. His house, put on the market, had been a sign, and returning to the country of his birth was the icing on the cake. What else would ever bring him back here now that his wife was no longer here? She had to keep reminding herself she was lucky to have gotten to know such a charming and wonderful man.

The knock on the window outside brought her back to her reality. Like every other morning, Fiona knocked and waved each time she passed on her way to work in the morning. Jenny waved back and smiled. Jenny had shared the information from last night’s book club, and Fiona seemed happy for her, but maybe a little envious too. That was an unusual occurrence.

“The oddest thing about it is receiving that text message from him right after I found out,” she said. “He knew we were on break at that time, and he wanted to check in and see how I was doing.”

“So what are you going to do about it?” Fiona asked.

“There’s nothing I can do, Fiona. The man may be heartbroken. I have no idea why they broke up.”

“From the way you’ve explained the story, it seems like he broke up with her. You don’t want to lose an opportunity to show him your interest.”

“Maybe he’s not ready to jump in again. When a person is fresh from a breakup, they need time to recover.”

Fiona shook her head. “You mean women need time to recover. Men are different animals. They need a partner. They need to have the next girl lined up before they take the step to end their current relationship.” Fiona smiled and patted Jenny’s hand. “You know, I read an article once that said women would leave a relationship to better their lives, where men will leave a relationship only if there is someone already waiting in the wings.”

Jenny panicked a little. “That’s something I never thought of,” she said. “What if he already has someone else to go to?”

“So what if he does. And maybe it’s you, did you ever think of that?”

“ No,” she said.

“That’s half your problem, my friend. You have to start going after what you want or be satisfied to spend the rest of your life alone.”

“ What about him? Why doesn’t he have to do the same?”

“He is out there. He dates. He has a social life. You need to catch up. And be brave enough to show you are interested. Or to ask him on a date.”

Jenny smiled in fear. “I know I could never do that.”

“Yes you can,” Fiona snapped. “You simply choose not to. Now let’s discuss the gala. I think I found the perfect dress to…”

“You don’t have to worry about that, Finoa. I decided you were right. I need to face up to the challenge. It’s silly to think about playing games with these people. I accuse them of not being trustworthy, and then I want to do the same. That’s not right. I created this mystery and I need to fix it.”

Fiona actually looked hurt. “The idea began to grow on me, but I understand. It’s your right to…”

Jenny smiled and interrupted again. “I’m sorry, Fiona. I didn’t think you seemed interested, anyway. I had to twist your arm to get you to consider it.”

Fiona shrugged. “Yeah, but now that it’s been twisted, I came to think it would be fun to pretend to be this mysterious writer person. I even developed a personality and voice to go with it.”

Jenny laughed. “You did what?”

“I developed her character a little. How she talks, what she drinks, which is cosmopolitans, by the way.”

“I’m surprised.”

Fiona shrugged. “Hey, it might have been fun.”

“Why don’t you come with me then? I’ll still buy you a smashing dress.”

Fiona smiled. “Now why would you do that?”

“I’m doing it because you are my friend, and because I want to. There’s no need to be concerned with my finances.” She smiled. “You’ll have a budget, you know. I won’t be paying for a vintage Valentino, but we could have a little fun shopping. So, will you come?”

Fiona smiled. “Sure.”

# # # # # # #

With genuine disappointment, Fiona began her short journey to work rehashing the conversation of the night before. She didn’t exactly want to be Jenny’s date. The gala only appealed to her if she could play the part of the star. Now that the attraction was removed, and Jenny decided to appear herself, it didn’t seem interesting to sit by her side and cheer her on. Fiona was more a of a headline girl, and not someone who shined only on the sidelines.

Last night when she let in sink in what Jenny asked her to do, she still felt a little squeamish. Soon she realized that this announcement could be big. She didn’t read the column in the paper, but heard a lot of buzz from those who did enjoy it. Surely there would be press coverage of the event, and if her picture happened to end of up in the newspaper, Doug may see it and realized what a mistake he made. Her popularity could be good for his business, too. Surely, he could see that. Maybe she could appear in newspaper ads, or even commercials for his plumbing business, and it would bring in more customers. She should have gotten a job in PR. She was a natural at this stuff.

Later, she’d tell Jenny that she couldn’t go and come up with some excuse, before she went to the expense of an extra dress. She toyed with the idea of going for a few hours last night, when she was going to be the main event, thinking that perhaps she could meet a nice eligible man there. However, in the harsh light of day she realized that no single man would go to an event like that unless he was forced to either by a wife or girlfriend, which no longer meant he was single. If Jenny pushed the issue, and begged her to attend for friendly support or some such nonsense, she may reconsider, but she didn’t think it would come to that. Jenny acted shy and awkward, but she could also be strong and would never stop being dateless from letting her do what she wanted. If that were the case, she’d never leave home. Jenny did have a relatively active social life. It may not have been to Fiona’s standards, but she did find interests that others shared, and took advantage of that.

Right before she walked into the Criminal Investigations Building, she spotted a familiar face being led inside in handcuffs. She typically used the back entrance as the front was often too crowded with visitors and people reporting for jury duty. Prisoners arrived by the back door, as well, but that was often earlier than she reported. The face froze her for a moment, just as it did years ago when he came out of a hotel restroom and caught her paging through his wallet. Gilbert Crawley was in Philadelphia, and the feeling in the pit of her stomach intensified. What was he doing here? Would he even remember her? It had been over 20 years? He still looked the same, a little grayer perhaps, but he still had a full head of hair and a decent build. God, she hated him.

Apparently the devil had taken up residence long enough to have allegedly committed a crime in Philadelphia, and suddenly she panicked that she would be in his courtroom as the stenographer. She knew Judge Klein’s docket by heart, for she had worked with the same man for nearly 15 years, but she also knew that trials were delayed and changes were made to fill in for down times every day. It would be just her luck to have this happen to her now. Still panicked she ran into the ladies’ room, took out her contact lenses, and wrapped her long hair into a bun. Her large glasses and up do hairstyle may be a bit of a disguise in case the nightmare played out.

She walked to her desk, located right outside of the Judge’s chambers and next to the courtroom and logged in. She panicked a little more when she saw the judge had a new case on the docket today because of a cancellation, then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw it was an assault and battery charge for a George Fenwick, who was accused of beating his mistress after she told his wife about the affair. It sounded dreadful, but she was relieved it wasn’t Gilbert Crawley’s case.

Quickly, she logged into the criminal database and entered Gilbert’s name, curious about what he was being tried for. It took a few moments to appear on the screen, and Fiona soon realized that Mr. Crawley had quite a rap sheet for passing bad checks and other petty crimes. His trial was set to begin today, and was expected to last for four days with jury deliberations. He’d been living at an address in South Philadelphia for the last ten years, according to his record, and this was a third offense for writing a bad check. That meant, if convicted he would face a lengthy sentence, according to Philadelphia’s new three strikes and you’re out law. It was going to be an interesting week.

Fiona tried to be relieved, and she nodded good morning to her co-workers who began trickling in, but realized that she felt uneasy just knowing Gilbert was in the building. She would use the front door now for entering and leaving, knowing it would be safer until he was no longer appearing in court. That meant lunches and breaks would be at her desk until then, since the courtrooms were relatively close and she did not want to take the chance of running into him in the halls. Life was strange sometimes, sending reminders when you didn’t need them, and staying silent when you did. She sighed as she settled at her desk for what she believed to be the equivalent to a long, cold winter.

 

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Two

planeAugust 21, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter Ten, Chapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter Thirteen, Chapter FourteenChapter Fifteen, Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty, Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Confidence is contagious, Jenny thought as she rose with the sun on her face, and smiling.  After tackling last night’s book club and Melissa head on, she wanted to take on the DIH challenge. It was her fight, and she had to see it through. Weighing the pros and cons last, she decided that she could make it work to her advantage. Life hadn’t been full of opportunities, at least not for her, and she knew she should take advantage of an invitation that may not be offered again. She had to trust her talent that her shop offered something that the members couldn’t get anywhere else just as Charlotte said. Even if they did stop coming to her, she’d survive.

Hardly someone comfortable in her own skin, as Jenny looked in the bathroom mirror, she realized she did look much better after taking on a new regime of cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing every day. She quickly showered and dressed, taking the time to add a little makeup to her morning routine, and opened the shop.

When she heard the familiar welcome bell ring and saw Mr. Hiller coming in, she knew a visit from him is exactly what she needed. She had not seen him since he had used her computer in the office last week, the day he had overheard the conversation between her and Charlotte. Moreover, they never had a chance to talk about his cryptic message. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.

“Mr. Hiller, you’re up early today?” she asked as he approached the counter.

He smiled and nodded. “Always been an early riser, but since retirement I’m slow to start my day. I am so happy you made an appointment about the dress, by the way. I hope you don’t mind, but Mrs. Carson called me this morning to tell me she’s meeting with you later today.”

“I don’t mind, although I still feel a little strange about it. But I’ll get over it.”

“That’s good to know,” he said.

“I haven’t seen much of you this week,” she said. “I guess you’ve been pretty busy?”

“I’ve been getting some things in order,” Mr. Hiller said. “I’ve decided to take a trip back to England, and wanted to come over and chat a bit before my flight leaves.”

“Sounds like you’re leaving soon,” she said a bit surprised.

He nodded. “I leave at 9 p.m. tonight, from Newark. The taxi will pick me up at 5:30 to take me to the airport.”

“That’s a bit sudden, isn’t it?” she asked, and then she regretted sounding so nosy. “Visiting family and friends?”

“I don’t have much family left over there I’m afraid. A few friends maybe, but I want to see London again. It’s been too long, you know.”

She smiled. “I can understand that, Mr. Hiller. It was your home for so long.”

He nodded. “London will always be special to me, Jenny, but Philadelphia will always be home. This is where my wife was born, and we married. And where you are,” he added. “Family isn’t always those who are related to you.”

His touching sentiment made her smile. “Are you trying to make me cry, Mr. Hiller? How long will you be gone?”

His momentary silence made her a little nervous. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ve put the house on the market yesterday and I’m going to take it day by day for a little while.”

The news surprised Jenny, who suddenly became worried. “You are coming back, right?”

“Most likely. I may reach London and hate all of the changes I have heard about. When I do come back, I will look for a smaller place. That big old house is too much for me. I struggled with the thought of selling it because of the memories, but I realized that it is a brick and mortar building. Nothing will take my memories from me.”

“Oh, Mr. Hiller, you are going to make me cry,” she said pouring on sympathy like syrup on pancakes. Nevertheless, she meant it. “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I don’t want you to go.”

“Hey, don’t you worry about that,” he said. “If anything, you should be more selfish. Go after what you want, Jenny. I want to know that you’ll be happy.”

His simple words touched her heart once again. “I am happy, Mr. Hiller. I guess happiness is a little different for me that it is for most people.”

“ I believe you are content, my dear, but happiness is a little different. Sometimes the difference is so subtle you can’t detect it. Sometimes you have to be a little brave and risk getting hurt for you to find true happiness.”

Jenny shrugged. “That’s the part I don’t like, Mr. Hiller. You know how hard that is for me, but I’m trying and making progress.” She wanted to tell him about last night and about taking a stance at the DIH gala, but not was not the time. This was his conversation.

He smiled. “I know you had a father that you adored, and I’ve had no children, but it is OK to adopt along the way, isn’t it? We’re not related by blood, but I know we share a certain kinship. I just want you to know that I’m proud of you.”

She smiled. “You are special to me, too, Mr. Hiller,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have someone like you in my life.”

He smiled too. “You’re going to make me cry, now,” he said. “Before things get too sentimental, I wanted to talk to you about a few specific things.”

In the worst case of bad timing, the door opened and in walked Mrs. Chadwick. Mr. Hiller stepped aside and began looking at the antique clocks that had recently arrived.

“Good morning, Mrs. Chadwick,” Jenny said. “How did the button work out for you?”

“It matched nicely. I wanted to stop by and see if you could find me a set of earrings and a necklace that might be from that time period that would match the dress.”

Jenny glanced at Mr. Hiller who had retreated to the corner of the store. Mrs. Chadwick did not care that someone was before her in line. She had no way of knowing that he was not a customer, after all. As if he knew what Jenny was thinking, Mr. Hiller nodded for her to take care of the customer.

“Do you have anything particular in mind?” she asked. Of course, she did. Mrs. Chadwick always came prepared.

She opened her well-crafted Birken bag, which retailed for a year’s store profit easily. “First things first,” she said. “Here is the check I owe you.”

Jenny took it and slipped it into the cash register. Then she watched as Mrs. Chadwick removed photos of some jewelry pieces out of a white envelope.

“Something like any of these would do fine,” she said. “Can you get me some photographs of what’s available and call me when they are in?”

Jenny nodded. “Certainly, Mrs. Chadwick. These are lovely ideas. Give me a few days.”

“ Very well,” she said, and as she turned to go, she stopped. “You don’t say,” she continued. “Arthur Hiller, as I live and breathe.”

Mr. Hiller turned toward Martha Chadwick and offered a small smile. “Hello, Martha,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

Surprised, Jenny watched the exchange. They knew each other, and the realization almost astounded her.

“That’s an understatement,” she said. “I didn’t realize you were still living in the neighborhood. I had heard you might have moved after…”

“Yes, after,” he said. “As you can see the rumor of my demise has been exaggerated.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have time to chat,” she said. “I have an appointment in ten minutes. Maybe we can have lunch soon?”

“I’m afraid I’m off to England for a bit,” he said. “So that leaves you off the hook.”

Mrs. Chadwick looked a little embarrassed. Jenny didn’t think anyone could do that to her. “When you return. Goodbye then,” she said walking out the door.

“You know Martha Chadwick?”

Mr. Hiller nodded. “I’m afraid I do. She is my wife’s second cousin.”

“You never told me that,” Jenny said.

“Perhaps because I didn’t find it important. They never got along.”

Jenny smiled. “Mrs. Chadwick isn’t the easiest person to get along with.”

“No she isn’t. Their personalities are like night and day, and Martha was jealous of my wife when they were younger. She used to spend summers in Stone Harbor with my wife’s family. After we married, we would get together now and then out of courtesy, but there was no love lost between them. Martha didn’t even come to the funeral.”

“That’s horrible,” Jenny said. She knew Martha as a selfish old bitty, but she did not realize that also extended to family.

“It would have been odd if she did come, I suppose,” Mr. Hiller nodded. “You know, the other day when I overheard you talking about the DIH, it all hit home again. My wife belonged to that organization. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you that before. She was a member for years, and then broke off when it became too much with the backstabbing and gossip. Years later, she tried to reapply again, but Martha turned her away.”

“You’re not serious,” Jenny said. “If they were related, Mrs. Hiller had a line to a signer, too. What was the reason?”

“I believe the bloodline is through her husband’s family.” He shrugged. “Actually, I don’t remember the reason she gave my wife. That is why I want you to accept that membership, and turn that organization upside down. It started out nobly, but lost its way since Martha took over. This is one of the things I wanted to talk to you about, Jenny.” Mr. Hiller took an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to her. “I never told you what I did for a living, did I?”

Jenny smiled. “You said you worked for the United Nations.”

Mr. Hiller nodded and smiled. “That was actually a cover,” he said. “I worked for British Intelligence, and they transferred me here to work with the FBI on a major case, which involved Martha’s husband and the law firm he worked for once upon a time. It also had offices in London. There was a terrible scandal and he had to resign and cooperate with the FBI or face prison time.”

Intrigued, Jenny looked at him squarely in the eyes. “So did he cooperate?”

“He did, but how he was ever hired by another firm is beyond me. American lawyers are another breed altogether.”

“Wow,” Jenny said. “Why are you telling me all of this?”

“Because I want you to take them down if you have to. There is information in this envelope that could do it, Jenny. If you need crutch, that is. That woman has no right to tell you that you cannot belong to an organization you want to join. She doesn’t own everything in this city.”

“Mr. Hiller, what’s in here?” She fondled the envelope as her curiosity piqued, wondering if she had top-secret papers that could get them both in a lot of trouble, or worse, endanger their lives. “Nothing that will compromise you, I hope.”

“No, Jenny, it’s what most Americans refer to as tabloid gossip. However, it will give you the upper hand should you need it. There is nothing confidential, and not much more than what appeared in the papers years ago. Let’s call it your get out of jail free card.”

“I don’t know what to say, Mr. Hiller, this is all so unbelievable. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.”

“Maybe you won’t have to use it, but you’ll have it just in case. If you do come forward at that gala, and I hope you do, you will have some ammunition if you need it. Like I said, this is old news, but it is news they have gone to painstaking trouble to hide. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bribed the newspapers to destroy their old copies of this information. Nevertheless, no one discusses the situation anymore, so no one who is in the club now would remember it. Now, there’s one more thing I have to mention.”

Jenny looked at him with wide eyes, afraid of what was to come. “OK, Mr. Bond.” she said.

Mr. Hiller laughed. “I assure you all of the mystery and intrigue is out in the open now,” he said. “I wanted you to accept this gift from me.” He handed her a check for $250,000 and her eyes widened to the size of quarters.

“Mr. Hiller, I can’t take this from you,” she said firmly. “Why would you put me in such an awkward position?”

“Oh, Jenny, I don’t mean to. I only purchased lottery tickets as an excuse to come into the store and chat with you. I don’t need the money, and I was more than shocked when I actually won the bloody thing.” He laughed. “I was going to donate it all to a charity, but then I decided that I’d give it to you. It might make you more comfortable about your situation and taking on the DIH.  It will buy a wonderful dress to wear to that gala, and if it makes you feel uncomfortable ,donate it to the charity of your choice. It would give me such joy to be a part of this experiment, since I probably won’t be here to see it through.”

She looked at him sadly. “Experiment,” she said. Poor choice of words. “So, I am your Eliza Doolittle, Mr. Hiller? You buy me a fancy dress and turn me into a lady? You said I was wrong before.”

“Jenny, you’re already a fine lady. I would like to help if I can, and see you be all you can be, my dear. If it’s the DIH you want, then I want it for you. And if it’s that fine chap from the book club, I want that for you, too.”

She smiled feeling the anger of a moment ago float away. Mr. Hiller had become her dear friend, and now her fairy godfather of sorts. “Is there something you’re not telling me, Mr. Hiller?” she asked with trepidation.

He sighed. “My plan is to come back to Philadelphia, but I’m not sure what fate has in store for me,” he said. “A few months ago, right after Mrs. Hiller passed, I was diagnosed with a blood disorder that might make me pretty ill, and if it does, I’ll have another year at most. I am taking medication, and following doctor’s orders, but you never know. I need to go back to England and get things in order, but my time is limited, if only in the way everyone else’s is too.”

“Mr. Hiller,” she cried. “This is the worst possible news.”

He smiled. “That’s hardly the case, my dear. I’m 75 years old and I’ve lived a wonderful life with my greatest love. It may be my time, that’s all. I’m at peace with it. I want to make sure those I care about are financially set. And I want you to find the happiness that I shared with my wife.”

“I can’t think about that now, Mr. Hiller. It seems so insignificant.”

“It’s not insignificant, my dear. Not at all. It’s the most important thing in life. Love is everything.”

She began to cry. “How can you be so calm about this?”

“I’m old and content and I’ve had more happiness than I probably deserved. You can’t see it that way because you’re young. That’s the way it should be. Just don’t be so afraid that it paralyzes you.”

Speechless she looked at him wanting to smile in reassurance, yet could not manage it. As if he sensed her sorrow, he smiled for her. “I’m good with everything, Jenny. I put a couple of things off for too long, that’s all. Now I have to face them. I don’t want you to say the same at the end of your life. Go take them on.”

She hugged him realizing that this may be the last time she saw him, and a feeling of melancholy took over. She didn’t want to lose him as a friend, and realized that would never happen, no matter how many miles separated them.

She realized now what she’d known all along. Only she could handle presenting herself as Carrie Grant the way it should be done.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Two

1239153_bookAugust 18, 2015 — Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter Ten, Chapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter Thirteen, Chapter FourteenChapter Fifteen, Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty, Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

The crushing weight of the DIH gala had lifted. The dirty details were settled. Now it was time to shift focus to the book club meeting, the one she had promised Andrew she’d host just before her heart was broken by news of his romantic getaway with Melissa. Even without the possibility of a romance, she didn’t want to disappoint Andrew and she wanted to do a good job, but with all that had been going on her in life recently she had done little to prepare. Still, she knew the book well because he had penned it, and that was a slight comfort. She knew the words, heard the pattern of his voice in them and she had read it several times. It was a brilliant book.

With that settled, her mind wandered back to the DIH gala. The decision to ask Fiona to come out at the DIH gala was a good one, she felt sure of that. Cowardly, perhaps, but she didn’t mind. It was all she could handle right now anyway. It might be difficult to break the news to Charlotte and Mr. Hiller, and likely would try to talk her out of the decision.

At least her shopping trip with Fiona had been pleasant. They had different tastes in clothing and that she knew that going in, but Jenny managed to pick out some classic pieces that were more Kate Middleton than Madonna, and Fiona seemed pleased. Tonight, she’d wear black tights with a black skirt a few inches above her knee and a deep lipstick red cashmere sweater that warmed her skin tone. She’d also sport shoes with a two-inch heel, stylish patent leather Mary Janes still inside her comfort zone, yet fashionable. She hoped walking wouldn’t be a problem! She topped it all off with gold hoop earrings and a large gold ornate cross on a long black silk cord that stood out against the red material of the sweater. Accessories were the most fun.

One down, two to go, she thought realizing that the second task would be a bit more difficult. How could she convince the group she could lead them when she had no confidence in her ability to do so? All of these thoughts swam through her head as she walked along in the cool night air the six blocks to the Free Library, where her book club met every other Wednesday, wondering how she would pull this off. She told herself that of all the tasks she had coming up, that this one was the easiest since Andrew or Melissa would not be there to witness it if she failed. That helped a little, even though realizing where they were right now, on their romantic trip to London and possibly Paris, made it difficult to swallow. She thought about pulling a classic substitute teacher move, asking the group to read quietly in their seats, but that would not work. They were adults and could do that at home. It would be a waste of their time to travel to the library, and Andrew would be disappointed if he found out what she’d done. She could do this. She knew the material, and had even armed herself with great discussion points she found on UPenn’s website just in case she stumbled.

Jenny reached the library earlier than usual and entered the conference room where the group met. She hadn’t expected to see Melissa, sitting in her usual spot, alongside the lead chair typically occupied by Andrew. Maybe they didn’t go, she thought, but why hadn’t Andrew told her? There were two other people there that arrived early by habit as usual, but other than that, the rest of the group had not yet arrived. Her curiosity piqued and her heart pounded as she sat across from Melissa in her usual spot, two seats down from the leader on the other side. What was she doing here? Where was Andrew?

“I’m surprised to see you,” Jenny whispered, letting Melissa know she was in on their little secret. “I thought you’d be on vacation.” Melissa looked puzzled, almost like she didn’t recognize her. Jenny remembered her updated look, but realized she didn’t look that different.

“I thought I would be, too,” she said, a comment, which did not provide enough of an answer and begged for more. Jenny didn’t have the guts to pursue the conversation further. Instead, she sat in silence while the other empty seats filled in, and on top of the hour, at 7 p.m., when she realized Andrew was not there, she took a deep breath, walked up to the podium and welcomed everyone to the meeting.

“You look different,” a male voice said, but she did not know whom, and everyone in the room looked at her as if they thought the same. She tried not to care about that and felt a little awkward. Truthfully, she was happy they noticed, but she didn’t want to make a big deal about it.

She smiled. “Just a little hair color and make up, that’s all. Now, as you know, Andrew couldn’t be here tonight, so he asked me to fill in,” she said, her voice weak, but gaining a little strength with every word. She felt her face turning red, and hoped the rest of the group could not see her nervousness. Speaking in front of groups, not her thing and never would be, seemed to highlight her social phobias even more. She had a tendency to speak and forget to breathe when she presented anything, wishing to get through it as quickly as possible, and she reminded herself to slow it down.

“To prepare for this evening’s discussion, we read chapters five through nine of the book,” she began, “and I don’t know about you, but I learned a lot about Benjamin Franklin that I didn’t know, about his legitimate son, and his decision to declare his loyalty to the crown. Do you think that was meant as a slap in the face to his father, or do you believe young William’s opinions really swayed toward England and the King?” She saw Melissa’s face cringe when she mentioned England, and deduced to herself that there had to be trouble in paradise.

“It was easily a decision aimed to hurt his father,” Mark Klein said, starting the conversation. Mark, an older man, reminded her a little of Jimmy Stewart when he starred in ‘How the West Was Won’. He seemed like a gentle soul, much more than many of the other group members, but then again he seemed quick with his opinions, and with his ability to start a conversation. “William knew how Benjamin felt about the treatment of the colonies by the British government. It was a loud statement heard around Pennsylvania for sure.”

Jenny agreed with Mark’s assessment, but wanted to play devil’s advocate. “William did believe in following the King. Because he claimed to be a loyalist doesn’t make him a traitor, per se?”

“Indeed it does,” added Lizzie Gardner, another high school history teacher in the group. She taught 11th grade American History after World War II, Jenny knew, but she had a passion for the Colonial period. With a pointed nose and large eyes, she could almost pass for Joan Crawford if you used your imagination. “Back then, it was wrong for a boy to take a stand against his father. It could be punishable by imprisonment if the father wanted to push it that far. William knew what he did, and he realized he would crush Benjamin’s spirit by doing so.”

“I’m not sure it was solely to crush Benjamin’s spirit,” Fred Garvey, another member added, “but any hope of reconciliation was shattered when William Franklin became leader of The Board of Associated Loyalists. That did damage their relationship permanently.” Fred aptly named, resembled Fred MacMurray from the “My Three Sons” era complete with a cardigan sweater.

Thrilled with the conversation, and where it headed, Jenny felt glad she prepared for the lead role. Things were going so well, in fact, giving her a little confidence boost in between, that she decided she would be brave and dig for a little more information at the break regarding Andrew and why Melissa wasn’t with him. When Melissa headed to the ladies’ room, Jenny followed close behind.

“Is Andrew in England?” she asked softly but bravely.

Melissa turned to look at Jenny with an odd look on her face. “I suppose he’s still there,” she said. “At least he is supposed to be there, but who knows.”

Jenny smiled. “I’m sorry, I know it’s not my business.”

“Are you?” Melissa asked rather rudely. “It seems to me that you’re trying to find out why I’m here. I know he told you about us and it was probably a mistake that I came here tonight.”

Jenny felt odd and looked down. “Look, Melissa, I’m not trying to pry. I wondered, that’s all. I thought maybe he was with you tonight and that your plans changed. And if you didn’t want to make me wonder, perhaps it was a mistake to come here.” Melissa’s face showed the same surprise Jenny felt by being so outspoken. Nevertheless, she didn’t care for Melissa’s attitude.

“You can wonder no more,” Melissa said. “We broke up the night before we were supposed to leave. Can you imagine that? We were on our way to the hotel by the airport where we’d planned to stay because of our early flight, and it all unraveled from there.”

Jenny looked at her with sympathy. “I’m sorry,” she simply said.

“You know, I should have known,” Melissa said, continuing to ramble on. “He’s a 45 year old man who’s never been married, and never been in a relationship longer than a few months. Can you imagine that? What did I expect?”

“Melissa, I’m sorry. Did he give you a reason? I’ll be honest with you, when he told me about the two of you, he seemed happy.”

She laughed. “Oh, I bet he did. And yes, he gave me reason,” she said. “But you’ll have to ask him about it.”

Melissa walked out of line, and Jenny watched her walk to the conference room, gather her belongings and head toward the front door. Before she left, she turned to Jenny and said, “By the way, I liked you much better the other way.”

Jenny was stunned by the comment, and realized that Fiona said the exact same thing, although in a jovial tone. Women really were competitive with each other. Melissa reacted harshly, and not because she knew Jenny had feelings for Andrew. She had no way of knowing that other than the fact that she once said he was attractive. Then she smiled. It must have been because she looked better than usual or these women would not be reacting the way they were. Melissa was not coming back tonight, she realized, and maybe never again. A little part of that made her smile.

It made her even happier when noticed her cell phone a moment later and saw that Andrew sent her a text message. “Hope things are going well – I know they are,” it read. “How about meeting for coffee and filling me in on Monday at 6? Same place.” The message seemed timed to perfection, as if he knew, Melissa had taken her leave. Jenny could not help but revel a little in the fact that they had “a place”.

Her wide grin was more than apparent to everyone she assumed as she made her way back into the conference room for part two of the book club’s discussion.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-One

evergreenbeauty-beauty-salon-businessAugust 14, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter Five,Chapter Six,Chapter Seven,Chapter Eight,Chapter NineChapter Ten, Chapter Eleven,Chapter Twelve,Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen,Chapter Fifteen, Chapter Sixteen,Chapter Seventeen,Chapter Eighteen, Chapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Four voicemails awaited Jenny when she returned to the shop, all looking for specific things, and all from women who belonged to the DIH. This alone proved what she knew all along. Those women were the bulk of her business and the risk of coming clean at the gala could be her downfall. How many times had her father told her not to bite the hand that fed her?

Nevertheless, if she decided to take that bite, Fiona would be the perfect cover. Fiona could confess at the gala, claiming she is Carrie Grant, and Jenny could get the satisfaction through her and not jeopardize her business. It was the perfect plan. Now she had to convince Fiona.

Jenny called her at work and asked her to come for dinner. That way, she could approach the subject with ease. Then she decided to close for the rest of the day and make an appointment at her hairstylist. When she mentioned what she wanted over the phone, the stylist begged her to come in immediately. She had urged Jenny to cut her hair shorter and add some highlights for years now, and wanted to jump at the opportunity while Jenny was agreeable.

To think this sudden change came from the conversation she had had with Mr. Hiller about what he wanted to do with his lottery winnings. He had been vague, but he also insisted on buying her a dress for the gala and joked about acting like her personal Henry Higgins.

“You should start calling me Eliza now,” she said with a smile when he told her. “Are you saying I need a makeover? Not that I haven’t heard it before, but I didn’t expect it from you.”

“Heavens no, Jenny. “ Outward appearances are important in life and that may be unfortunate, but it is always a goal to put your best foot forward. Besides, you already have the most important part down. You’re a lovely woman both inside and out.”

She blushed. “Mr. Hiller, you don’t have to flatter me. And I wouldn’t feel right letting you buy me a dress. I can afford to buy one with my lottery winnings.”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Jenny, so pardon me if I speak out of turn.”

She stopped for a moment and looked at him wondering what could be coming next. Another lecture about accepting gifts. “Go on,” replied.

“If you’re going to take that ballroom by storm, I believe more powerful clothes are in order.”

She smiled feeling relieved. “You may have a point there, Mr. Hiller.”

“And I want to help. I never had a daughter, so I never had the privilege of buying a prom dress or wedding dress, so let me do this for you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hiller. That is kind of you, but I can’t let you do that,” she said, almost fighting back the tears.

He shrugged. “No, it’s my gift and you have to accept it. I took a chance and made an appointment for you with my wife’s stylist at Bloomingdales.” He handed her a card. She is waiting for your call. And if I were you I’d pick up a few other pieces while I’m in a generous mood.”

That is when the tears started to flow for real.

“Ah, Jenny,” he said offering a hug, “You have meant so much to me these past months. This is the least I can do.”

She thought about their conversation as her stylist finished her hair. After the cut and color, which she adored, the stylist talked her into buying some skin products to enhance her complexion. She handed a magnifying mirror to Jenny, who looked horrified seeing her face 10 times its normal size.

“You need to care for your skin and get rid of the dead skin cells,” she said. “Did you know the number one cause of aging skin is the accumulation of free radicals?”

“That sounds dreadful,” Jenny replied, not understanding a word that she had said.

The stylist smiled. “What is your present skin care regime?”

“My regime?” Jenny shrugged and laughed. “You make it sound so political,” she said.

The stylist did not seem amused.

“You know with the free radicals and the regime … oh never mind.”

By the time she left the salon and spa, she was nearly $300 poorer than when she entered. Once she arrived at home, she called the stylist at Bloomingdales to make an appointment and admitted that this was fun.

When Fiona arrived for dinner, she could not believe the change a small hairstyle had made and could not take her eyes off Jenny, which made her laugh. The stylist placed warm caramel highlights in her hair, which brightened up immediately, and cut it into a shorter bob style, chin length, with a choppy side bang. Jenny, shocked by her appearance, admitted that she loved the change when the stylist told her it would be easy to maintain.

“You look wonderful,” Fiona said, “but I have to admit it’s a bit unnerving. There’s already too much competition out there.”

Jenny laughed at the dramatics. For a change, she wanted to change the subject and talk about Doug. “You’ve surprised me, Fiona,” she said. “Not that I didn’t think you were capable, but I’m happy and proud you’ve done the right thing and haven’t tried to contact him.”

“It hasn’t been easy,” Fiona said, stuffing her mouth with a forkful of pasta that Jenny had delivered. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the longest I’ve ever been unattached to boot.”

“It’s been three weeks,” Jenny said with a laugh. “And that’s your record.”

Fiona smiled. “What can I say? I like men and they like me. I will tell you something else. Doug called me a few days ago. Didn’t leave a message, but I saw his number on my cell. And I didn’t call him back.”

“Fiona, that’s wonderful!” Jenny said. “Now the next relationship will be with an available single man, and will be for keeps. Keep chanting that.”

“Yeah, and maybe I’ll believe it. Have our roles reversed or something? What was in that hair dye, anyway?”

Jenny laughed. “I almost wish,” she said, “but since you’ve brought up a role reversal, I do have a favor to ask.”

Jenny gave Fiona a condensed version of the DIH drama unfolding before her, and her second career as a newspaper columnist, which took her by surprise. Then she added the part about the fax arriving at the newspaper about joining the DIH.”

“That’s wonderful, Jenny. Sounds like it all worked out for you.”

Jenny paused for a moment, and then filled her in on her fears about the business and the DIH walking away from her when they find out.

“I don’t know if I’d worry about that too much,” Fiona said. “They may be too embarrassed to show that you got to them, and continue to do business with you to save face. What’s this favor? Do you want me to sleep with their husbands or something?”

Jenny laughed, though it was not funny. Then she wondered if Fiona would do that, and realized she probably would. “Heavens, no. Nothing that scandalous, anyway. I wondered if you would help me bend the truth a little.”

Fiona laughed. “The pure and good Jennifer Hobbs wants me to lie. Well, I never…”

Jenny laughed, too. “I guess I am that horrid, aren’t I?”

“Jenny, get to the point. What do you want me to do?”

“A little favor, that’s all,” she said trying to buy more time. “I want you to go to the DIH gala, since it is within your range of the city. It’s held every year at the Hotel at the Bellevue on Broad Street.”

“OK, so you want me to be your date so you don’t have to go alone, no problem. I do wish Andrew was a possibility for you, though.”

Jenny shrugged. “I don’t want you to be my date, Fiona. I want you to be me. Or I want you to be Carrie Grant.”

Fiona laughed. “What on earth for?”

“So you can be the public persona behind the name, and I’ll continue to do the writing. That way, we both get what we want since you like the spotlight much more than me. And, I get to keep my business.”

Fiona frowned. “Jenny, I don’t know about this. What would your editor say?”

“I don’t think he’d have a problem with it, and then we’d have to convince one of the members, Charlotte Ampstead, too, but I think they’ll both go along with it knowing it might be best from a business perspective.” She also realized she would have to inform Mr. Hiller, and she knew he would not like it one bit.

Fiona still did not look convinced. “What would I have to do?”

“Not much. Show up at the gala in May and accept the award as Carrie Grant. There could be a little media coverage of the event, and you might want to prepare a short speech about what an honor it is to become a DIH member, which I can put together for you. You will be the face behind the name. Your life will continue as usual.”

“Jenny, why are you so afraid? You’re the one who wants to be a member of that club. It’s not my thing.”

“But I can do it through you, like I do with everything else in life.” Jenny shrugged. “I’ve never told you that before, have I? I may not always agree with what you do, but I am kind of envious that you have the nerve.”

“Good grief, Jenny, I’m the agoraphobic, and I’m supposed to be the one with the problem. How is it that I am able to do more than you?”

Jenny looked at her. “Because you are a beautiful woman, Fiona, with much more confidence than I will ever have.”

“Let me let you in on a little secret, my friend. I don’t think I have more confidence than you do, I just don’t want to be alone, and that is a stronger feeling. You’re making me envious with this new look, by the way. Besides, everyone is scared. I try not to let my normal fears paralyze me as my abnormal ones do. God, I am a head case, too, but you’re beating me here, girl.”

“I know it sounds crazy, Fiona, but I think it could work. You love parties. I love being in the background. We’ll shop for the perfect ball gown, my treat of course, and it will all be perfect.”

“It would be better if you would if you did this yourself. Besides I’m not into going to the meetings.”

Jenny frowned. “I hadn’t thought about that. It won’t be a big deal. They know you work during the day, and won’t make it to day meetings. They hold a night meeting each month to compensate.”

“That doesn’t sound fun, either,” Fiona said.

“Please,” she begged.

Fiona paused for what seemed like eternity. “I’ll do it, but I think it’s a big mistake,” Fiona said. “You should be the one making the big statement that night. Like you did with your hair today. Think about the satisfaction of seeing the look of shock on those miserable bitchy faces.”

“I will admit that’s a little intriguing,” Jenny said, “but I can’t take the chance.”

Fiona nodded. “Anything to help out a friend,” she said.

“One other thing,” Jenny said. “Do you want to go clothes shopping after work tomorrow? I think it’s time to update the wardrobe, too. And maybe I’ll even buy a little makeup.”

Fiona seemed giddy as a large smile appeared on her face. “Please don’t tease me,” she said with dramatic flair. “I thought you would never ask.”