Summer Breeze

summer breezeJuly 30, 2015 – To the boy who lived on Claridge Street around the corner,

It was the summer of 1974. You stood near the cash register at Lou’s Candy Store and made an impression on me that will last forever.

Perhaps you were buying something, or just stopping by for a visit because you were a friend of the owner’s son. I knew who you were the way you know all the kids in the neighborhood, but it was the first time I observed you closely.

I felt smitten as I watched you sing along to Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” playing on the radio. It made me realize you were a kind soul even though even though your little sister had threatened to turn my little sister’s nose upside down so she’d drown when she took a shower.

After I shared that moment with you, our paths ever crossed again.

“Summer Breeze” played on the oldies station today, and I smiled remembering the boy who touched my heart that day, just like I do each time I hear it. Funny, your name escapes me, but I have never forgotten how you made me feel that perfect summer day all those years ago.

Daughters of the Hall

champJuly 21, 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

The past few days had been a whirlwind of emotions, coming and going waves on the Jersey beaches. Between the argument at brunch and witnessing Andrew and Melissa so much in love at the Chinese restaurant, Jenny couldn’t catch her breath. Events like these happened to be the reasons she avoided matters of the heart. The rewards may be worth it when things went your way, but she hadn’t experienced too much of the positive side of exposing your feelings to the world, making it seem reasonable to hide away from it.

On Monday, the morning flew by in a flurry of activity, so Jenny didn’t have time to dwell on her sorrows. Mrs. Chadwick had stopped by to pick up the button for her gala dress, and Jenny was surprised to see her in such a state. The woman who rarely smiled was beaming, peculiar enough, but she also gave Jenny a handsome tip for her efforts. Something had happened over the weekend to put her in a better state of mind. She looked rested, even younger, and happy, quite the opposite of her own experiences, and for the first time, Jenny was envious of the woman.

She also located several selections for desk sets for Charlotte Ampstead, and put in a call to have her come into the store so they could make a decision. Her mother’s birthday loomed around the corner, and Jenny wanted to make sure everything shipped on time to appease her favorite DIH women. She couldn’t thinking about their last encounter at the shop when Jenny had relaxed her defenses and revealed too much about the DIH activities. She wondered if Charlotte had put the pieces together and would confront her about it. She also wondered what she would say if she did.

Not only were emotions surging through her, but lottery activity boomed and streams of customers had been coming in all day to play their special numbers in hopes of becoming millionaires. Powerball fever had been the hottest topic in the neighborhood, and probably across the entire region. Headlines boasted about the largest jackpot in Powerball history. It made her wonder again about what happened to the lottery ticket Mr. Hiller purchased for her.

As the thought crossed her mind, Mr. Hiller walked into the store, Jenny’s mood instantly lifted.and instantly her mood improved.

“Good day,” he greeted.

Jenny smiled. “I hope it’s exactly that for you, too, Mr. Hiller.”

“Ah, it certainly is, Jenny. The sun is shining, the air is warm, and we all woke up this morning to the sounds of spring’s pending arrival.”

“You’re a true poet, Mr.  Hiller, do you know that? I thought you were referring to the lottery.”

“Didn’t I mention that, too?” he said laughing.

“You’re welcome to watch the drawing here if you want,” Jenny offered. “We could have a little celebration. It’s the least I can do for my best lottery customer.”

Mr. Hiller’s face brightened. “I think I’ll take you up on that, Jenny.”

“I have a bottle of champagne chilling if you’d like to share it with me,” she said. “Once you win, that is.”

“A bold move by a woman who is willing to believe anything is possible,” he said. “I’m happy for you and it would be my honor. If you don’t mind me asking, why the sudden change?”

Jenny shrugged. “I had an awful day yesterday, and I’m tired of feeling bad. Besides, all of those little pep talks about being positive and taking chances were bound to have an effect on me.”

“Isn’t that grand? Now we’re guaranteed to win,” he said. “Although I’m sorry about your awful day yesterday.”

Jenny blushed. “I’m fine, Mr. Hiller. Just feeling sorry for myself, I suppose. Besides, I don’t want to ruin your day listening to my problems.”

“I get the feeling you don’t want to talk about it, so I won’t push,” he said, “but I’m here if you want to chat. I’ve always been a good listener.” Jenny smiled as Mr. Hiller walked to the door. “I’ll be back for the drawing,” he said. “Until then, have a wonderful afternoon.”

After a busy afternoon, Jenny waved Fiona, who was walking home from work, into the store. “I wanted to invite you to watch the lottery drawing with Mr. Hiller and me,” Jenny said. “I have a bottle of champagne chilled and I ordered a deli platter from down the street, so we can celebrate even if Mr. Hiller doesn’t win.”

Fiona smiled. “What if you win?” she asked with an impish grin.

“Chances are neither of us will win,” Jenny said. “Besides, I can’t seem to find that lottery ticket Mr. Hiller purchased for me anywhere. I’d bought another one so I wouldn’t hurt his feelings. Come to think of it, you’re the only person I know who hasn’t bought a ticket. Unless you’re giving your lottery business to someone else.”

“I went in on the office pool, but I left before they distributed copies of the tickets,” Fiona said. She paused for a second, and then shrugged. “What the heck, I’ll join you. Let me put my stuff upstairs and I’ll be right down.”

By the time she got back 10 minutes later, Mr. Hiller had arrived. Jenny locked the front door and the three of them walked up the flight of steps to Jenny’s apartment to watch the 5.30 p.m. drawing.

Fiona held a ticket in her hand.

“So, you did buy a ticket somewhere else,” Jenny said.

Fiona shook her head. “Actually, this is yours,” she said handing over the ticket. “I was babysitting it so it wouldn’t end up in the trash.”

“Fiona, I’ve been driving myself crazy looking for this,” she said. She looked over at Mr. Hiller pouring champagne into three flutes. She hoped he didn’t hear Fiona’s comment about throwing the ticket away.

When the drawing began, the numbers flew up on Ping-Pong balls one by one. After the first five, Jenny realized Mr. Hiller had four of them. She knew his numbers by heart. While they both looked at each with a secret smile, Fiona spoke first. “Don’t tell me they are your numbers and you actually won the Powerball,” she said.

Jenny nodded. “One of us came close,” she said. “Four of Mr. Hiller’s numbers were chosen.”

Mr. Hiller said nothing for a moment, and then smiled. “Five, actually, but not the Power Ball number, so there go my millions.” He paused for a moment and then laughed. “I can’t believe I actually won,” he said. “Depending on how many winners, if there are any, it should be good for a decent amount of money.”

Fiona’s eyes widened in awe. “How much?”

Mr. Hiller laughed again. “Not that much,” he said. “Perhaps a few hundred thousand or so.”

“A few hundred thousand!” Jenny shrieked. “You did it, Mr. Hiller!” she shouted with excitement. “You won the lottery, like you always said you would. I can’t believe it! I don’t think we have enough champagne.”

“Ah, but that’s not the best news, my dear,” he said. “You’re entitled to at least 5% of my winnings, which means you’ve won a good bit yourself.”

“I can’t accept that, Mr. Hiller,” Jenny said. “That money is yours.”

“What do you mean, Jenny? For God’s sake take it,” Fiona said. Suddenly her voice became stronger. “He can afford it.”

Mr. Hiller was kind to smile at Fiona, although Jenny felt embarrassed by her friend’s actions. “Jenny, I purchased the ticket here, so you’ve also won because you sold me a winning ticket. I’m not paying you, the lottery commission is. Besides, even if I did want to give you a percentage, you would take it. What did I tell you about accepting gifts? Your friend is right. Now, what should I do with my winnings?”

“I could put it to good use,” Fiona said quickly. “Shopping, shopping and more shopping!”

Mr. Hiller laughed again. “I was thinking more on the lines of building homeless shelters and community centers,” he said, “but shopping is good, too. My wife always enjoyed a good sale. Still, with $200,000, I could do some good.”

Fiona shrugged. “That’s wonderful of you, Mr. Hiller. It is, but surely you’re able to afford it.”

“Fiona,” Jenny said.

“No, she’s right, my dear. I can afford to be generous. Nevertheless, it is relative. Most people can afford to do something.” He looked squarely at Fiona and she blushed.

Jenny couldn’t believe it. The happiness she felt for Mr. Hiller was intoxicating, but she also enjoyed the news that her shop would get a part of the prize, too. With a little bit of extra cash, perhaps she could take on DIH and come clean about the true identity of Carrie Grant, even without the possibility of Andrew in her life.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Sixteen

booth July 14, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,Chapter Seven,Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine,Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve, Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen, Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

A lazy Sunday afternoon was best spent in front of the TV watching old movies, or reading a book. That was all she had the energy to do after the morning’s showdown with her family, a term she used rather loosely because the group included her mother. So, when Fiona asked her if she wanted to have dinner at the Chinese restaurant a few blocks down, it seemed like the perfect diversion.

“What happened at brunch?” Fiona asked as they walked down the street.

“Why would you ask,” Jenny replied, “You got home early.” Jenny shrugged. “Are you spying on me?” “

Hardly,” Fiona said laughing. “I can’t help if I hear your door open and shut each time you come home. I guess that’s something I should complain to the landlord about.”

Jenny received the message and smiled. “OK,” she said. “I didn’t mean to give you attitude.”

“That’s OK. I know you have a lot on your mind. I kind of figured they all said something stupid to you about the wedding or something and you left.”

Jenny looked at her friend and realized this intuitive woman was clever. She was definitely wasting her talents. “You’d be right about that,” Jenny admitted. “My mother suggested that I ask Mr. Hiller to the wedding so I don’t embarrass anyone by not having a date.

Fiona laughed. “Has she met Mr. Hiller? What did you say?”

“I told her she was rude, and that he had lost his wife so it was inappropriate.”

“I wonder if he would go with you.”

“Fiona! I just said it’s not appropriate to joke about him.”

“I actually wasn’t joking, but I do see your point. Hey, if having a date is important to you, hire someone. I saw a movie last night about that very thing.”

The night air felt chilly, and she nestled her hands deep into the pockets of her coat and shrugged. “You want me to hire an escort.”

“To escort you to a wedding, yes. Not in the traditional sense, although that might be an added bonus.”

“Fiona, that’s disgusting. I would never do that in a million years.”

“Have sex?” “Not with a hired stud,” Jenny replied. “Why not? When was the last time, Jenny? Really?”

Jenny looked at her friend with shock on her face, yet she shouldn’t really be surprised. “That’s none of your business, Fiona,” she said.

“Oh, come on. It’s girlfriend talk, that’s all. I’ll tell you the last time I had sex.”

Jenny laughed. “And with great detail, I’m sure. These things are just private to me.”

“So, you have had sex before?” Jenny stopped.

“Fiona!” she said a lot louder than she expected. She was embarrassed by her outburst and the conversation, and looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one was. They never were. “I’m sorry, but I’m curious. You never talk about it,” Fiona said, not about to give up.

“Yes, I lost my virginity in college like most people,” Jenny said, her voice dripping with sarcasm and embarrassment. “I’m not completely an old maid, you know. Now, let’s change the subject. Were you home last night? You didn’t answer the door when I knocked.”

Fiona looked down at the pavement. “I didn’t answer purposely,” she said. “You were pretty rough with me at breakfast yesterday, and I was a little ticked.”

“Rough on you? What about the line of questioning I just had to endure?”

Fiona wouldn’t look at her. “Look, I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Fiona smiled. “I’m not sorry I said it. You needed to hear it, but I should have taken a softer approach.”

“I know you’re right, but I don’t want to hear that right now, Jenny. I’m not ready. So, let’s change the subject again. Why don’t you try online dating? You might meet someone nice, and you still have a few months before the wedding, right?”

Jenny shrugged. “I am not about to turn my whole life upside down and do things I’d never be inclined to do because of a stupid wedding.

“Why don’t you try online dating?”

“We’re not discussing me, remember? You’re the one who needs to learn to take a few chances and put yourself out there. It’s the way people date today.”

There it was again. The same message hit her square in the face; first from Mr. Hiller, then her mother, and now Fiona, and she still fought it. “I’m not sure what you mean,” she said. “I took a chance and came out to dinner with you tonight. I never do that.”

Fiona smiled. “Ok, but that’s not what I meant. Besides, I have something to tell you that may change your mind.”

“Oh, yeah, what’s that? And does this mean we’re talking about you again?” Fiona laughed and punched her in the arm.

“It’s not easy for me to admit this, Jenny, but I took a long hard look at my life and my past relationships, and you’re right. They fail because I choose unavailable men.”

Jenny looked at her friend with surprise. “Well, blessed be!” What a huge admission for her, and a giant step towards recovery.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Fiona stated, “that I won’t stick to it, but I will try hard. I know I am my own worst enemy, but I’m working hard to change that. It’s been pure torture, but I haven’t even attempted to call Doug the past few days.”

“Fiona, I’m proud of you,” she said. “There are plenty of eligible men around town who would love to date you.” “Do you happen to have their phone numbers? Because if that’s true, they aren’t knocking down my front door. That’s why I joined a new dating service for center city singles. And that’s why I put up a profile for you, too.”

“You didn’t!”

Fiona shrugged. “No I didn’t. I wanted too. But that little voice in the back of my head told me that you should be the one doing it, not me.”

“That little voice is wise,” Jenny said.

“But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on getting you to build a profile, too. We could do this together, Jenny. You could help cure me.” Jenny laughed.

“That’s not fair.”

“All is fair in love and war.”

Once they reached the restaurant, Jenny peeked into the window and froze. There in the red upholstered booth, the half-circular kind that let you sit close to the person you’re dining with, Andrew and Melissa sat enjoying a Chinese feast, and acting like playful teenagers in love for the first time. They looked ridiculous the large booth, obviously meant for a larger party. It swallowed them as they sat closely side by side. Her stomach dropped to her feet and she realized that this day, this week really, had been one of the toughest emotionally.

“Who’s that?” Fiona asked well aware of the sudden tension. “Is that Andrew and that girl from book club?”

Jenny nodded, trying to hold back the tears.

“She’s nothing special,” Fiona said, giving her the once over. “Her hair needs a good conditioning – too many split ends for me – and someone needs to tell her how to dress.”

“She’s lovely,” Jenny said. “And Andrew knows that, too.” One glance at the happy couple told her everything she needed to know how they felt about each other. No makeup or beauty treatment could have made her look better. She wore the look of love.

“She’s certainly no beauty,” Fiona stated, contradicting Jenny’s thoughts.

It may have been true that Melissa wasn’t a conventional beauty – she actually looked like a little like Bette Davis with her big eyes and not one of her favorite actors by far, although she did love the movie “All About Eve” – but as she watched him kiss her on the cheek, she knew he was happy.

“You know I’m more in the mood for deli,” Fiona said. “How about we go have a sandwich instead?”

“This is exactly why I don’t take chances,” Jenny said ignoring her friend’s request, and continuing to stare at the happy couple. “It hurts too damn much.” 

Chapter Fifteen – Daughters of the Hall

phallus_Modern_art_Painting_Pablo_SaborioJuly 10, 2015 — Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,Chapter Seven,Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine,Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve, Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Sunday morning brunch. The dreaded event of the week, and the one she hated more than the smell of overcooked broccoli permeating through her apartment. Her mother’s cardinal rule assured that Jenny wouldn’t be bothered with family matters if she agreed to come to Sunday brunch.

Jenny walked the blocks sure-footed, yet in no hurry to get there. The day felt cool at 47 degrees, but the sun warmed her as she walked the blocks to the townhouse in the exclusive Fairmount section of the city. Her mother shared the home with her new husband, Henry, and his intolerable daughters, the “Barbie” twins, Emma and Sarah. She could take a taxi, but the walk always calmed her before the main event.

Emma and Sarah were younger than Jenny by 14 years, and at 25 were planning their elaborate weddings to two men who worked in their father’s investment firm. How convenient. Jenny wondered if Henry found them for his daughters, and made them part of their package employment deal, or if it was a real romance. The thought confounded her, but she knew it thrilled her mother, who after years of waiting had the opportunity to plan a wedding since the girls’ mother had left for Europe nearly 10 years ago and never bothered to return.

The minimal traffic on the streets at this early Sunday hour had been enough to make the walk interesting. She passed a few women who were walking home, still dressed from the night before, commonly referred to as the walk of shame, Fiona told her. These women did not make eye contact with the other passersby, walking with their heads down, though she could still spot the smudges of last night’s eye makeup on their faces. She felt sorry for these women, but also a little envious of them too. Their predicaments were unusual, and they were tossed aside this morning like garbage from last night’s feast, and likely wouldn’t hear anything from the men they’d spent the night with, but they had the possibility of something special on the horizon. Now in the day’s harsher light, they looked lonelier than ever.

She also came upon your garden-variety dog walkers complete with fancy sneakers and Starbucks cardboard coffee cups in their hands. They strolled, stopping to take a sip if their dogs stopped to sniff something along the way. She wanted a dog as a child, but her allergic mother prevented that. When she came home from college and moved back in with her father, they had considered getting one, but both agreed that it was not fair to subject a dog to apartment living, and one that would keep him or her alone for most of the day.

After almost getting knocked over by a young man on a bicycle, she took and deep breath and reached her destination – all too fast for her liking. Glancing at her watch, she realized she still had 15 minutes and planned to take advantage of every precious second of it before she entered through the gates of hell. It wasn’t to be; as if her mother had a sixth sense, she knocked on the front window and gestured for her to come in. So much for a little solitude before the worst part of her week, she thought, and she felt guilty that she thought that way. She loved her mother, but she was difficult. Still, Jenny knew she would have to accept the criticism if she wanted a relationship with her.

Her mother opened the door with her usual wide smile. “Come in, it’s chilly out here.”

“No, it’s beautiful,” Jenny, said, and the conversation and its opposition had begun.

“Did you walk?” her mother asked.

Jenny nodded. “I thought I could use a little more exercise. I missed a couple of sessions at the gym this week.” She felt bad for adding the part about the gym. She never followed such rules in life, and barely got any exercise at all that involved gym or elliptical equipment, much to the chagrin of her mother.

“The more routine it becomes the easier it is,” her mother said, and Jenny realized she had no clue about sarcasm. She looked around the empty room.

As if on cue, her mother picked up the scent of a question. “Henry and the gang are at church and after they’ll meet with the reverend that will perform the ceremony.”

Jenny shrugged. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t go with them, mom. This is your wedding too after all. You could have called me and cancelled. I would have understood.”

Her mother smiled. “No reason. They will be home in time for brunch. We’re going to start about 45 minutes later today.”

“That would have been nice to know. I could have used the extra time myself.”

“Nonsense,” she said, as if she believed that Jenny always had too much free time on her hands.. “I will give us a chance to catch up. Let me get you a cup of tea and we’ll chat.”

Jenny situated herself on the fine floral sofa and watched her mother walk out of the room. She had to admit the house and furnishings fit her personality. They were nicer than anything she had when married to Jenny’s father. Above the fireplace hung a painting of something modern and funky, which did not go with the rest of the decor in the room, but she knew the piece made her mother happy. She had picked it up at a gallery on Second Street a few weeks ago and had not stopped talking about it since. Philadelphia hosted a Friday of the Arts on the first Friday of each month, where the galleries remained open and people traveled in and out like tourists. Last year the DIH collaborated with the galleries for a fundraiser that was one of their most popular. Jenny wondered why they did not hold the event again this year, and wrote about it in her column last month.

“Here we go,” her mother said, walking back into the room and handing Jenny a bone china teacup. “A steaming cup of Earl Grey as you likes it.”

“Thank you, Mom,” she said, accepting the cup from her mother’s well-manicured hand. “I guess that’s the painting you told me about.”

Her mother nodded with a smile, laying her hand on her chest as if she were in complete awe over it. “Yes, we hung it last week. It will not stay there since we bought it for Henry’s home office. We are redecorating for it. We ordered another more traditional piece for this room and it should be in next month.”

Jenny laughed. “You’re going to redecorate an entire office to fit a painting? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?”

Her mother shook her head and smoothed the material on the Chanel suit she wore. “You don’t understand the first thing about art, Jenny.” She shook her head.

Jenny laughed, “I do have a degree in fine art, remember?”

“All of that education apparently did nothing for you, not to mention your time employed at the museum.”

Jenny snickered. “It is a lovely piece. It’s just that most people buy art to fit into their existing style, and not the other way around.”

“That’s absolutely not true,” her mother said, sitting and crossing her arms in defiance. “This is an intelligent, one of a kind piece that begs to have a room fit around it. Besides it’s much too modern to stay here, and it belongs to Henry since it is an anniversary gift.”

Jenny looked worried for a moment, fidgeting with the cloth napkin on her lap. “Did I miss it? I thought you got married in June.”

Her mother looked quizzical. “I’m talking about the anniversary of our first date. You may not be aware of it, but it’s common to celebrate those specific anniversaries, too.”

Jenny ignored the criticism and smiled. “That’s an awful generous gift to give someone for the anniversary of your first date. How will you top that when your real anniversary comes around?”

“I don’t have to top anything,” she said. “Jenny, you’re taking all of the joy out of gift giving, you know.”

Her mother was right this time. She did go overboard. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It was thoughtful of you, mother.” In her own way, Jenny felt a little envious that her mother had a new life and a second husband, and she did not have one yet. Right then, she sensed the question coming.

“So, are you seeing anyone special?” Her mother acted as if she had not seen her in months the way she phrased this question, an effort that Jenny ignored.

“No, not since last Sunday,” she said, trying not to appear snotty, but saying it the same.

Her mother smiled, ignoring the sarcasm. Jenny thought she resembled Donna Reed with a darker shade of hair and minus the heart of gold, but today, decked out in the Chanel suit and impeccably accessorized, she looked a little like Alexis Carrington from “Dynasty”. She did look lovely for a woman nearly 70. Maybe she was too hard on her mother.

Seconds later, the five intruders made their entrance, snapping Jenny back to reality.

“You’re earlier than I expected,” her mother said jumping up to greet them.

“We finished our business, and bought lottery tickets on the way home.” Henry looked happy. “Hello, Jenny. We bought some for you too. Maybe we’ll all be rich.”

“Hello, Henry, I thought you already were rich,” she said.

“Jenny!” her mother stammered. “Don’t be rude.”

“I thought he was, Mother.” Jenny cleared her throat and wrapped her sweater tighter around her. Now the games could begin.

Henry laughed. “You can never have too much money, my dear.”

“Hello, Jenny,” Emma and Sarah said in unison, as if they were still joined by the umbilical cord.

“Hello, girls,” Jenny said with a smile. Girls are how her mother always referred to them and she simply followed suit.

All of the sickening politeness continued with the typical nods from the two finances, to which Jenny nodded back.

“Lottery fever has taken over,” Henry said, handing Jenny a few tickets. “Isn’t it grand?”

Her mother laughed. “Jenny isn’t much for the lottery, or for taking chances, Henry. You know that. But she’s told me the lottery machine in her little shop does well.” The words made her blood boil. “I do have a lottery ticket already, Mother. Mr. Hiller, one of my best customers, bought one for me.”

“Oh, dear,” her mother said. “Is that the lonely widower that you talk about? He is old for you, isn’t he? Although he does have money, Jenny, and he wouldn’t be a bad catch in that case.”

“That is disgusting,” she said. “He’s my friend, mother. You shouldn’t speak of him that way.”

“Why don’t we all sit down and eat,” her mother said, ignoring her comment, “and we can catch up on all of the wedding details.”

“Great,” Jenny said, realizing it came out a little more sarcastic than she wanted to present, a sound that preceded cold glances by both of the brides-to-be.

“The reverend doesn’t have a problem with releasing the butterflies outside, so I do hope it’s a sunny day,” Emma said.

“I still think doves will be better,” Sarah said. “More fitting to the occasion.”

“Babe,” Sarah’s finance, Robbie Thornton said. “PETA will have a field day with keeping birds locked up like that.”

“Who cares what those spoiled sports think,” Sarah said pouting and sounding like a three-year old.

“We don’t want them showing up with red paint on our special day,” Emma said.

“Why would PETA show up at your wedding?” Jenny asked.

“We’re sending out a press release explaining the details,” Joseph Parsons, Emma’s finance said. “We want the press to show up, and have to be respectful.

“You want the media to come to your wedding,” Jenny replied. “Why?”

“It’s good for daddy’s business,” Emma added.

The four of them could not have looked more like Ken and Barbie if they tried, although the girls could have also easily passed for one of those insipid characters on any of those MTV programs. Emma and Sarah both wore gray wool slacks and pink sweaters, although thankfully they were not identical, and had matching pearls and straight blonde hair that fell below their shoulders. Their grooms had dark wavy hair, nondescript faces, and wore khaki pants and pink Ralph Lauren golf shirts. The couples were ready for the country club scene.

“You can bring your gentlemen friend to the wedding,” Emma said looking her square in the face.

“Who?” Jenny asked.

“You know, the gentlemen who gave you the lottery ticket.”

Jenny could feel her cheeks turn red-hot. Damn, her mother. Why did she have to say such a thing? “We’re not dating. He’s just a friend.”

“Ask him anyway,” Sarah said, passing the over the bagels. “I told you I can’t eat any carbs before the wedding.”

Jenny tried to smile. “He’s an elderly gentleman who just lost his wife. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“But it would be better than coming alone,” Sarah said.

“And much less embarrassing,” Emma added.

Jenny felt her eyes beginning to swell, and told herself she would not cry in front of these buffoons. “I wasn’t planning on coming alone, but I don’t have to come at all,” she snapped. “I’d prefer it that way to be honest with you.”

Her mother shot her a look of terror, her second of the day. “Jenny, please apologize.”

Her mother’s words stopped her dead in her tracks. “Why should I apologize?”

Henry shrugged, while the other two men sat in stone silence. “I agree with Jenny,” he said. “There’s no need to apologize. We’re all fine, right?”

Emma and Sarah shot each other looks of tension, then their lips curled to show a small smile between them. “Who do you think she was going to bring?” one whispered to the other.

“That’s fine,” Jenny said. That little voice inside her head told her to defend herself and she planned to do just that. “Go ahead and laugh,” she said as a few years of anger began to boil inside of her. “Laugh all you want. But I won’t stay to listen to it.”

She left the dining room and quickly walked out of the front door. When she got back on the street, she let the tears flow, and as if she timed them to perfection and a taxi approached to take her away.

Jenny returned to her apartment, still upset by the brash events that pushed her to the brim, but her heart had calmed and she knew this would pass. Dramatic exits like this did not often happen in her world, but they had happened before, so she knew what to expect. Neither she nor her mother would put in a call to each other to discuss the incident. They would simply shove it aside and take part in the next brunch as if nothing ever happened.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Fourteen

cut-up-cardJuly 7, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,Chapter Seven,Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine,Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve, Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Elyse Walton hung up the telephone after speaking with her accountant. A wave of nausea hit her gut and she felt faint.  She took a deep breath and walked slowly over to the chaise lounge to sit for a moment. It did not seem possible, but it had just been confirmed. How could her husband have made so many bad decisions with their finances? And how could she have been so stupid to let him get away with it. She believed his confession now, the one he reported last night when he said they were broke.

Elyse looked at her watch. Normally at 3 p.m. on Saturdays, she trekked over to the DIH office to catch up on the paper work that came with her post, and handle those other items she needed kept confidential, such as meeting with her private investigator about her husband’s shenanigans. She knew he had a roaming eye, but never did she imagine she would have to worry about the money, too.

It had been a crazy week, and she was already dealing with the terrible behavior of her two daughters. The youngest, dealing with a marijuana charge, wanted her to use her connections to make it disappear. It was not the first time, and although she had promised it would never happen again, it had. Her older daughter’s problems were bigger and she needed help dealing with them. They couldn’t be tackled with one simple phone call. Ghastly as it was to imagine, the girl had filmed herself having sex with her latest boyfriend, and wanted it to go viral…on purpose! The posh women’s college she attended on the Main Line, expelled her instantly even though they had paid handsomely to get her on the acceptance list. The stupid girl did not seem to care about her reputation or the family name that she’d tarnished.

She tried to talk to her husband about the mess of both of their daughters last night, but he came home with his own topic of conversation.

“We’re out of money and I want a divorce,” he’d said as if he told her the car needed gas. The words flowed as easily.

Elyse stared at him for a moment, wondering what she ever saw in him. He was a shallow man, and one without strength or conviction. He was self-absorbed and possibly a sociopath. How could she have she loved him once, when they met all those years ago and believe he was handsome and clever? Her parents resisted her choice in a husband, wanting her to marry Clark Rayner, a fine man from an upstanding family, and not some unknown from off the street. Elyse despised Clark, and refused her father’s wishes, telling them he looked too much like a horse with his long thin face and zero personality. She stood up to both parents, exclaiming she would make her own decisions, thank you very much! She’d been paying the price ever since. She knew her mother would cut her off from the family’s fortune if she divorced. If possible, that woman worried more about scandal and the family name, than Elyse had. There had never been a divorce on her side of the family, and Elyse knew she could not be the first, or she would be cut off and have to fend for herself. God knows, her no good husband could not support them.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“In a nut shell, I’ve made some bad investments, I lost a bundle, and now there’s no reason to hang around.”

Elyse cringed at the sound of his voice and the words coming out of his mouth. What would she do if he did leave her?

“So, you would walk away from your daughters and let them starve,” she said, trying to lay on the guilt.

He laughed. “Hardly. Your mother will take care of them.”

“Not if we divorce, she won’t, and you know that. She’ll cut us off.”

He thought for a few moments, and shrugged. “You know, it’s still not worth it. I don’t’ want to be married to you anymore.”

Elyse laughed. “We haven’t been married in the traditional sense in years,” she said. “Are you prepared to go out and get a job you’ll have to do well at to keep? Think about that for a moment, won’t you?”

“If I stay, it’s going to cost you, you know. Big time.”

Elyse rolled her eyes. “It always does,” she said, with a bit of a snarl. She hated giving into his horrible demands, and she hated the sight of him. Still, she had no choice. He held the power until her mother croaked – and at 87, she was still going strong – she had to put up with him. “Look, why don’t you go to Atlantic City for the weekend, and I’ll deal with the situation.”

Her husband laughed. “You’ll need to talk to your mother and have her release more cash,” he said. “The accountant can’t do a thing without cash.”

“Then that’s what I’ll do,” Elyse replied, pacing the room. “But you can’t be around when I do. I’ll have to tell her I’m the one who made the bad investment, so I’ll need details.”

“Call the damn accountant if you want details,” he snapped. “It’s not my problem. ”

“It is if you want to keep eating,” she snapped back. “And forget the divorce talk, at least until…”

“Yeah, I know, until the old broad dies. That can’t be soon enough for me.”

Elyse finally lost her temper. “Don’t you dare act like this is a burden on you. How do you plan to support yourself if you divorce me? You won’t get anything if we don’t have anything. My future inheritance won’t count. My mother has that tied up so tight we’ll never see a penny of it if you walk out now.”

He looked at her with a defeated look then headed towards the door. She knew he realized she was right, and that was rather unfortunate. They were both stuck.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter 13

chocolate_croissant_lgJuly 3Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven,Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Jenny opened the shop a little later on Saturday mornings and spent the extra hour having tea and croissants with Fiona. It became a tradition, and one that she cherished.

On time as usual, Fiona knocked at 9 a.m. with fresh chocolate and raspberry croissants from the bakeshop on the corner. Jenny smiled when she opened the door, as the teakettle began to whistle in the kitchen.

“You look happy,” Fiona said. “Something good must have happened. Did you run into your professor again?”

Jenny shook her head. “No, nothing like that. I have a little different perspective on my situation, that’s all.” Last night’s dinner with Mr. Hiller helped her sort through the mania in her head, and even though she felt the occasional pang when she thought of Andrew, she felt at peace.

“Tell me everything,” Fiona said as she placed the pink bakery box on the counter “Maybe it can help me, too.” They sat down at the small café style table in Jenny’s kitchen, while Fiona opened the box of croissants and Jenny poured tea.

“There’s nothing to tell,” Jenny said. “I’m in a better mood, that’s all. I had dinner with one of my customers last night, and it helped me look at things a little differently.”

Fiona’s eyes widened to take it all in. “Oooh, who?” she asked. “Anyone tall, dark, and handsome?”

“I would say yes to that, but not in the way you think,” she said. “Mr. Hiller. You know the older English man who comes in for lottery tickets. Speaking of which, I can’t find the ticket he bought me anywhere. I looked for it last night, and I suppose I did throw it away.”

Fiona seemed quiet for a moment and then added her two cents. “Mr. Hiller? You could have had pizza with me last night and had a better time.”

Jenny shook her head. “That’s not nice, Fiona, and it’s not true. He is a charming man and I enjoyed his company. He helped me a great deal.”

“Whatever,” she said. “He’s too old for you, you know.”

Jenny shrugged. “I’m not dating him, Fiona. He is my friend. He is nice to talk to and tells me the most amusing stories. Besides, he’s lonely since his wife passed, and if I can help make him feel less lonely, that’s a plus.”

“Oh, God, do you think he has a thing for you?”

Jenny had lost all patience with Fiona’s rude comments now. “Stop!” she demanded. “I don’t want to talk about him like he’s someone who is annoying me, because that’s not true!”

Fiona shook her head. “Jenny, men and women can never be friends. Too much sexual tension.”

“That’s ridiculous. Besides, it’s not as if he asked me out to dinner. We ran into each other at the deli, that’s all.”

“I suppose that’s OK,” Fiona said. “His old parts probably don’t work anymore, anyway.”

“Fiona!” Jenny shouted her friend’s name in disgust. She did not appreciate Fiona, who boiled down everything to sex, to cheapen her relationship in that way. “There is more to life than sex.”

“No there isn’t,” Fiona replied turning pale. “The thought of life without it makes me a little sick to my stomach. Besides, there are more pressing things to discuss, anyway. What have you decided to do about Andrew?”

Jenny shrugged, knowing she was in the process of forgiving her friend for all of the crazy stuff she said, as she always did. “There’s nothing I can do. He’s taken, and I’m going to let it be.”

“Wrong move,” Fiona said.

“And what would you have me do? Contact a hit man to take out Melissa? You obviously didn’t give any thought to what I said yesterday.” Fiona’s craziness knew no bounds. Why did it still surprise her? Every conversation turned into a roller coaster of difficulties that she would have to overlook if she wanted their friendship to continue. “Even if I did do something crazy, he still never gave me any reason to believe he was interested in me. Let’s move on, ok?” Jenny stuffed her mouth with a large piece of croissant to keep her from saying anything else that might cause a fight. “Now, it’s time for both of us to move on to greener pastures.”

“Oh, I haven’t given up,” Fiona said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve concocted a new plan, but I need your help.”

“I’m not calling him or his wife, Fiona.”

“No, I don’t want you to call him exactly. I want you to hire him.”

Jenny stared at her friend with a blank look, surprised by the gall. “Hire him?”

“Yes, for some plumbing work that you need.”

“But I don’t need any plumbing work.”

“OK, then how about you ask him to give you an estimate on central air. You’ve been saying you wanted to do that for a while now, and summer is coming.”

“Fiona, what makes you think he would want the job? It would be obvious to him why I hired him. Let it go. He has a family and they need him. You can find someone else.”

Fiona’s blue eyes filled with a pool of tears. “I wish I could be like you,” she said. “I wish I didn’t feel all of the passion and love that I do, but I can’t control it. I’m highly emotional, and I love him, Jenny. I’m not like you.”

Jenny did not like the implication. She had passion and plenty of it, but that did not mean she had to give it to a man who already had another life with another woman. She simply didn’t define her life by sexual encounters the way Fiona did. Still, she had to let it go. There were bigger fish to fry today. “I don’t see the reason,” she said. “He needed to break it off clean with you, and already said so. Why can’t you listen to him?”

“Because I know he doesn’t mean it. I know he still loves me. If it weren’t for that witch he is married to, he never would have broken off with me.”

Jenny shook her head in shame. “Are you listening to yourself? He was not a nice man to do that to his family in the first place. Neither were the men that came before him. If you married him, he would do it to you, too. Can you see that? He’s already doing it to you. You have suspected him of cheating before. He’s never going to leave his family and come to you so it’s best to break it off now and learn to accept it.”

With color depleting from her face, Fiona left the table and walked out the door without a word. For the first time, Jenny provided her with honest feedback, something she should have done all along, and it backfired. The rest of the day dragged on, making Jenny’s paranoia work overtime. She felt a little guilty about being so abrupt with Fiona, but then became angry for feeling that way. Fiona needed it to hear the truth. Now, she felt lonely, and hoped Mr. Hiller would make an appearance. She began to wonder if she did depend on Mr. Hiller a little too much, but then dismissed it as ridiculous. There was no harm in enjoying his company.

During the afternoon she texted Fiona to see if she wanted to have dinner and go to a movie at the theater down the street, but she did not answer. When she knocked on her door after closing shop, she did not answer again. She would not have gone to see Doug, who lived too far out of her comfort zone. Where else could she be?

After not being able to confer with Fiona for the rest of the day, Jenny decided to order a pizza, pop in “Notorious”, stay in, and relax. There was no one better than Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman to spend the night with, anyway. That, she decided, was the perfect Saturday night.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twelve

imagesJune 30, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter Two,Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

An uneventful Friday afternoon ended a long and disheartening week. Jenny closed up shop and headed upstairs with the thought of a lonely weekend adding extra salt to her wounds. She spent most of her Friday nights alone, but it felt different now. Andrew and Melissa likely had romantic plans for tonight and the rest of the weekend, and as much as she tried to get those images out of her head, they added to her pain.

All day long, she berated herself for not being more open with her feelings for him before, and for not showing him she was interested when she had the chance. It may not have changed things – he probably wasn’t interested in her that way – but if she had tried to make her feelings knows, the hollow feeling inside may not be as intense. One solution existed for this problem and every other social problem she had. It’s not as if she hadn’t heard it before, and often fought it off, but she needed to learn to speak up and ask for what she wanted. That theory worked well for most people. She needed to find her courage, erase all of the social anxiety in her life, and go for it. It was unimaginable to think about spending the rest of her life as a wallflower, or worse, a doormat. She could admit that now that her dreams resembled a pill inside a pharmacist’s apothecary jar crushed down to a fine powder.

No more, she told herself. She deserved to be happy. But how would she accomplish such a tall order? Seeking happiness silently was one thing, but changing your personality to speak up about what you wanted was altogether different. She felt certain that Melissa was that kind of women, not afraid to speak up about what she wanted, and look at the rewards bestowed upon her.

Once upstairs, she locked herself in for the night and started to think about dinner. Her appetite made itself known with a good rumble in her stomach, a good sign, and even though she still felt sad, eating might make her feel better. She had a vegetable potpie in the freezer, which would take about 45 minutes in the oven to bake. Too long to wait, her stomach told her. With not much else in the apartment, she figured she’d have to go food shopping sometime this weekend.

“What would Melissa do?” she asked aloud. Go out and grab soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at the Old Nelson Deli, she decided. If she felt brave enough, she might even eat it there – on a Friday night. That would not look too pathetic. She smiled at the thought, realizing that once she got to the deli, she would order to go, but the mere thought of considering a bolder move made her smile. Change, the big change required to make her life better, would have to come in smaller installments.

She wrapped herself in her dark wool pea coat and began her trek downstairs. Once she hit the streets, the crowds did not surprise her. People stayed in the city on Friday nights, to meet friends at dinner or happy hour, or to stay behind and shop. After the quick walk, she strolled into the deli and saw a familiar face sitting at the table by the window.

“Hi, Mr. Hiller,” she said.

Seated alone with a bowl of soup, a chicken salad sandwich on rye, and an unopened Clive Owens novel next to him, Mr. Hiller smiled. “Jenny, what a nice surprise. Did you stop in for dinner?”

She nodded. “I stopped in to get something to go, but I could join you if you’d like.”

“Please do,” he said with a wide grin. “You are wonderful company.”

Jenny nodded, and then walked up to the counter to place her order. Within a few minutes, she joined Mr. Hiller at the table. As soon as she sat down, he picked up the newspaper and smiled. He pointed to the headline indicated that Monday’s lottery drawing would be one of the largest the area had ever seen, and she smiled, too. “I assume that means you’ve already won the jackpot in your imagination,” she said. “So has my neighbor.”

He nodded. “I’d also be happy if you won, Jenny.”

She knew he meant every word. A kind man to the core, she felt glad she had gotten to know him over the last few months, and all because of the addition of a lottery machine in her store.

“Thank you, Mr. Hiller. Maybe we can both win.”

“We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we? The drawing is in three days.” He had stopped eating, but started again as soon as Jenny’s tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich arrived. “You know, I wasn’t always such a gambler,” he said. “There was a time I wouldn’t have considered spending money on a lottery ticket. My parents raised me to believe that taking foolish chances was wasteful. Even though my family was comfortable, they would have considered buying a lottery ticket squandering money away.”

“What changed your mind?” Jenny took a bite of her sandwich.

“My wife,” he said with sadness in his eyes. She believed in miracles of all kinds. She taught me that you had to take chances in life because that’s where most of the fun is.”

She smiled, realizing once again that the conversation shifted to taking chances, and she was about to get another life lesson.

“She loved Atlantic City and the casinos,” he said. “I used to get a little upset about how much she would want to spend there, and now that she’s gone I regret that. She loved it so much I should have let her have her way, and I’m not sure why I didn’t. It wasn’t about the money. We had plenty of that. I inherited a great deal from my family, and I worked for the United Nations all those years, which paid well.”

She smiled. “So, that’s what you did for a living,” she said. “Mystery solved. I kind of got the feeling that you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“You’d be right about that, Jenny. I had such passion for that job, but it had been ingrained in all of us that we shouldn’t speak about it too much.”

“By whom?” she asked. “The UN?”

He laughed. “Actually, the British Government. Now mind you, we did not operate like Interpol or British Intelligence, but we did work on a lot of top-secret stuff. I started out as a Farsi translator, and I ended up working with the British and the U.S. on our relations with the Middle East. As you can imagine, those last few years of my career were action packed, and I couldn’t even talk about it with my wife.”

“That must have been difficult,” she said. Jenny knew how much he loved his wife and how impossible it must have been not to share his work with her. “You loved her, Mr. Hiller. That makes you a lucky man, lottery, or no lottery.”

He smiled. “I am lucky,” he said. “Or at least I was. It gets lonely now and then, and I miss her.”

“I’m sure you do. And you’re used to such an exciting action-packed life with all of the espionage and such.” She smiled, half joking, but feeling his sadness overcome her. She wondered if he would ever want to date again, or even would consider the possibility of remarriage.

He laughed. “You’ve watched too many movies, I see. The job today is so much different than it once was. Nothing is private or top secret, and the media is involved in everything, which made it difficult to operate, or have a normal relationship. I was lucky I had an understanding wife.”

Jenny smiled.

“And how about you?” he asked. “Whose heart are you breaking now?”

She shrugged. “Now that’s a funny question,” she said. “There’s no one special in my life right now. The man I thought I might be interested in told me he has been dating a woman I know from my book club for the last few months. It’s serious, and I took that hard.” There, she finally said it out loud and she considered that a first step.

“I’m sorry, Jenny. Matters of the heart are so tender, and l might add he is crazy not to want to be with you. If I were younger, I’d be in line myself. You’re a quality woman, Jenny Hobbs.”

She smiled and blushed. Mr. Hiller did have the old world charm she enjoyed in men, but so did Andrew. For vastly different reasons, neither was for her. “That’s sweet of you to say, Mr. Hiller, but I think I’m meant to stay single.”

“Nonsense,” he cried, but no one around them seemed to notice. “You’re still a young woman, and much too young to think that way. Keep your eyes open and you will find the right man. I’m sure of it.”

“I wish I had your positive attitude, and so does my mother,” she said. “Most of the men I meet seem so full of themselves, and they have few manners.” She smiled. “Men like you and the man I thought would be a good match for me are few and far between, you know.”

“Ah, we’re more plentiful that you think, Jenny. You have to take a chance, and you have to keep your eyes open.”

She smiled. “You believe in taking chances, don’t you?”

“Wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said. “I never would have left London if I didn’t believe in taking chances.”

“OK, then I will take one with you,” she said feeling bold. “I already have in a way. I’ve never told anyone about Andrew before today,” she said. “That’s the name of the man I am interested in.”

He nodded. “And it’s a fine, old fashioned name. An English one to boot.”

“And now I’m going to tell you another secret that no one else knows.” Something about Mr. Hiller felt comforting, and she wanted to entrust him with her secret and find out what advice he could offer.

He laughed. “You have me intrigued and you have my full attention.”

She smiled too. “Do you know that column in the Philadelphia Weekly about the DIH and its activities?”

He nodded. “Sure, I read it on occasion. It’s by the journalist who shares the same name as the actor Cary Grant, a fine Englishman from my hometown, I might add.”

She nodded. “I’m not an Englishman but I am Carrie Grant.”

She watched his jaw drop in surprise and the smile grow on his face. “Well, I’ll be,” he said. “I didn’t know you were a journalist.”

She laughed. “That’s the beauty of my secret. No one knows.”

“I’m impressed. You’ve kept it a secret even though many people around the city are trying to expose who the real Carrie Grant is.”

“Weird, isn’t it?”

“It’s amusing,” he said, his relaxed persona showing the joy on his face. “How did this all come about?”

“As you know I’m a history buff, and last year I applied to the DIH because they fascinate me. My grandmother was a member years ago, and my father was a Revolutionary War re-enactor, so I guess it’s in my blood. However, a tie to one of the signers is not. Unfortunately, they turned me away.”

“So, you decided to do your part and write about them instead.”

Jenny laughed. “You make it sound noble, but in actuality, I started it as a little bit of revenge. Not the best way to begin a journalism career, but it is the truth. A lot of the members come in to my store and openly discuss the behind the scenes stuff with each other before they go to the place down the street for lunch, so I put what I hear to good use.”

Mr. Hiller laughed. “That’s brilliant, dear girl,” he said. “They deserve it for turning you away. And why did they turn you away?”

“For starters I’m not related by bloodline or marriage to one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.”

He laughed. “That’s one of my favorites, by the way. I am in no way bitter that this country felt it had to declare its independence from the King.”

She smiled. “And another thing is that I’m not wealthy like most of their members. They consider me their service girl, and not someone who would serve side by side on a committee with them.”

“They are crazy to have turned you away.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hiller. I appreciate that. And I’m glad I told someone.”

He smiled. “I’m glad you chose me,” he said. “Let me assure you I will keep your secret safe.”

“Oh, but I’m forgetting a key part of this story. The DIH sent over an invitation for Carrie Grant to join the club the other day. They sent it to my editor, and are extending the olive branch, I suppose. I have no idea what to do.”

“Take them up on it,” he said. “It’s poetic justice if you ask me.”

“I’d love to give them all a good shock,” she said, “but I’m a little worried about my shop. Those women are my best customers. If I lose them, I don’t think I could stay open.”

Mr. Hiller frowned “That is a bit of a predicament, isn’t it? I don’t fancy buying my lottery tickets anywhere else.”

Jenny laughed. “And I don’t want to lose your business, either.”

“Don’t worry, my dear.” He smiled at her, as her father used to and said, “You’ll know what to do when the time is right.