Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Three

PowerBallMay 29, 2105 Chapter One, Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Jenny tried to push the conversation with Mr. Hiller from her mind, but she kept replaying it while walking up the stairs to her second floor apartment. Why was it so difficult for her to make a positive change in her life and go for what she wanted? Was she that insecure? It was true that she rarely took chances but admitting it out loud threw her off balance, and she felt drained. The last thing she wanted was pity from anyone, especially Mr. Hiller.

Before closing for her lunch break, she had made a few calls to button distributors to clear her head, and it took longer than expected. She understood the drill. She had to take photos of the button and email the images to each distributor, along with the information she knew about the garment. In a few days, she’d know if one of them tracked down a match for Mrs. Chadwick’s evening gown.

With a quick turn of the key, she opened the door and walked the path to the telephone answering machine on her desk. One message waited and held the news that tomorrow’s book club had been cancelled. The voice was female, calling on behalf of Professor Gordon, and Jenny reasoned that she must be his assistant. Her lips pressed tight with disappointment as she listened to and erased the message. She might have held on to it for a few days if Andrew had left the message, but there was no need to keep his assistant’s voice for another listen. Perhaps the extra days would give her time to reread the assigned chapters and prepare notes for discussion. The cancellation also meant she would have to wait another two weeks to see Andrew, which made her feel like a tragic character from a Russian novel. She smiled slightly realizing she was being overly dramatic.

Three quick taps on her door told her lunch would have to wait even longer today. Jenny opened the door and smiled.

“You’re late,” the woman standing in her doorway said, throwing her hands above her head in frustration. As if she had them saved up all morning, her words shot out like bullets from an assault weapon.

Fiona Donnelly, Jenny’s third-floor tenant and friend, had a special flair that made her different from anyone else she knew. An attractive woman slightly over forty, Fiona acted and dressed like someone half her age, but it suited her. An agoraphobic who cheats is how Jenny’s mother described Fiona, who suffered from the crippling panic disorder. Yet Fiona enjoyed a loftier confinement than most in her predicament. She could leave her apartment and walk the six blocks between her home and her office building where she worked as a court reporter in the Criminal Investigations building. Nevertheless, Fiona had not wandered outside of that six-block area in the 20 years she lived in the neighborhood.

“Sorry about that. I had a project that required a bit of extra attention.” Jenny waved to Fiona to come inside. “I forgot you took a vacation day and that we had lunch plans. You should have come down to the store to remind me.”

Fiona shrugged and folded her arms in front of her chest. “You’re not the only person who’s forgotten me today, and I know you don’t like me to bother you when you’re working.”

“I suppose that means he didn’t call,” Jenny said. She braced herself to hear more.

“Oh, I heard from him but now I’m convinced he’s cheating on me.” Fiona’s unbridled passion came from her relationships with her many married lovers. Jenny watched the revolving door through the years, since they came to Fiona because she could not go to them, which probably suited them fine. Her latest faux beau, an electrician named Doug, whom Jenny hired to rewire the shop and the apartments, had been the topic of their conversation for months, and Jenny took a deep breath to prepare for what was coming. Fiona’s smooth reddish blonde hair reached midway down her back, and without a split end in sight. Her cat-like gray eyes danced with joy when she spoke about Doug, or Steven, Joel, Scott, Aiden, and the endless list of the many others along the way. They seemed interchangeable, and none had characteristics that made them more special than the other.

Fiona resembled Moira Shearer, the star of the movie “The Red Shoes” with her body tall and lithe, making everything she wore look fabulous on her dancer-like frame. She fed off male attention as if she needed it to survive, and never went hungry, even in her six-block world. It seemed unfair, even though a married man would never appeal to her, that Fiona consistently had someone in her life and Jenny was alone, without confinement.

Jenny slumped forward and frowned. Clearly, their points of view differed on what constituted cheating. Could a man cheat on his wife have a worse reputation for cheating on his mistress too? Besides, why would it surprise her since he cheated already? “Why do you think he’s cheating on you?” Jenny asked with raised eyebrows.

“Rose, the cashier at the grocery store across from the Chinese fruit stand told me she saw him with an attractive brunette at McGillin’s a few nights ago,” Fiona said, letting her words flow again with rapid fire. “McGillin’s is off the grid,” she added, meaning out of her six-block world. As Fiona spoke, she grasped her cell phone with her slender fingers and sharply filed purple nails. The phone played the part of a constant companion that went everywhere with her because God forbid, she miss a call.

“Maybe there’s a reasonable explanation,” Jenny said, not believing her words, but offering them the same. She preferred the truth, but with Fiona, she made an exception to bend it on occasion as a matter of survival. “Why don’t you ask him about it?” She also wondered why Rose would know anything about Doug and Fiona in the first place, but realized that, like Mrs. Chadwick, Fiona would tell her story to anyone who would listen.

“I have to do a little digging,” Fiona said, and Jenny could see her friend in the midst of concocting another one of her outrageous plans. She hired investigators to follow her beaus from time to time, familiar with the best from her position at the criminal investigations building. Fiona could crack passwords and usernames on laptop computers and cell phones to get the inside information she craved on her latest lover. “Most men are not complicated,” she’d say.

“Try not to get arrested,” Jenny would reply. Her smile made it seem like a joke, but the serious tone in her voice conveyed that she meant it. “You’re wasting your talents, you know. You should help the CIA with those deadly skills of yours.” It seemed odd that anyone would go to such extremes to be with someone they did not trust, a question she dared not to ask. She attributed it to her friend’s phobia. She felt certain that if Fiona had free range in the city, she’d be dating an available man, and Fiona and Jenny would not be friends. They shared, Jenny believed, a friendship of convenience.

“They don’t have a clue what I’m doing,” Fiona said. “Besides, where I come from, it is common to checkup on your man. Technology today makes it easier.”

The words made Jenny shudder. Fiona grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state’s capital. Jenny found it difficult to believe that there were other women like Fiona, let alone an entire city of them waiting to catch their man cheating. What would be the point of falling in love? Fiona left the city of cheaters and moved an hour and a half east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Philadelphia for bigger city excitement and apparently a wider selection of unavailable men. Soon after, she had a breakdown that required hospitalization, and that incident kick started her agoraphobia. She had not traveled back to Harrisburg, and to Jenny’s knowledge, her family never came to Philadelphia. Away at college at the time Fiona’s breakdown, Jenny’s father cared for his new tenant and visited her in the hospital since she had no family nearby. His heart, spacious and full of compassion, also had an effect on those outside of his family, and she knew Fiona missed him too. Their love and respect for this wonderful man had been the one common thread they shared.

“This woman,” Jenny said, “she could have been a business colleague, right?” The suggestion seemed absurd. As an electrician, Doug would not have to wine and dine clients, but her words seemed to appease Fiona. Hopeful or plain delusional, Fiona would cling to the man of the moment’s word, and the clichéd excuses he offered, whether he needed to wait until the kids were a little older before he left, or that he and his wife no longer had a romantic relationship, and hadn’t for years. Jenny appreciated that she was not as needy. She’d never choose a life of dishonesty or waiting in the shadows just to have a companion by her side. Now, she’d added to her friend’s delusions by coaxing her to believe something ridiculous. Once, when Jenny mustered up the courage to ask why she chose to go through this ritual repeatedly, Fiona explained she couldn’t help whom she fell in love with, as if it became an uncontrollable force of nature. You may not be able to help whom you fall in love with, but you can help what you do about it, she had replied, and regretted it after an hour-long lecture that Jenny must not understand anything about true love and its strong and powerful forces.

“You’re right, Jenny, a business colleague. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.” Fiona smiled. She received the emotional security she needed, at least for the moment, and now maybe they could get through the rest of lunch without mentioning Doug. “What do you have there?” Fiona asked staring at the piece of paper in Jenny’s hand. “Could it be that the disbelieving Jenny Hobbs bought herself a lottery ticket?”

“Yes, it’s a lottery ticket,” Jenny said with a grin. “But I didn’t buy it.”

“It’s all they’re talking about on the news, you know. Powerball fever is an epidemic. There are three hundred and ninety-eight million dollars up for grabs. Oh, what I could do with that kind of cash.”

Jenny had not realized that she still held the ticket in her hand, but welcomed the turn in conversation. The lottery ticket had changed her luck, after all. “A customer gave it to me this morning,” she said. “I didn’t have the heart to throw it away, so I brought it up here so I didn’t have to stare at it all day.”

Fiona looked horrified at the mere suggestion. “Don’t you dare get rid of it!” she said. “For once, be positive, Jenny. Someone has to win.”

Jenny smiled. “Yes, I believe the odds are in my favor.”

“Why do you have to be so cynical? Just put it on your refrigerator. That way, you can use the power of positive thinking to bring that money to you each time you pass it.” Jenny looked at Fiona shook her head.

“I’m not sure I buy that, Fiona. I’m not wired that way.”

“Positive thinking brings good things into your life. I saw that on an episode of Oprah, you know. What you think, you are. It makes perfect sense.”

“Right now I’m thinking that I’m a person done with this insane conversation,” Jenny said with a grin.

“You’re such a pessimist, and I don’t appreciate your sarcasm. It’s not flattering.”

Jenny relented. “I’m sorry, but it seems silly to me,” she said, throwing the lottery ticket on her desk by the phone. “Can I get you something to drink while I heat the soup? I made minestrone.”

“A glass of water would be nice,” she said, “with lots of ice.” Once Jenny headed toward the kitchen, Fiona, who had a habit of taking things that did not belong to her, picked up the lottery ticket and slipped it into the back pocket of her jeans.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Two

Vintage Collection 1940 Alice Teapot SummerBloom SmallMay 26, 2015 – Chapter One 

Chapter Two

Jenny drew a deep breath, exhaled and tried to release the conversation with her mother. She unlocked and opened the drawer beneath the cash register and exhaled when she spotted the button safely wrapped in the corner. It was still there. No one had been in since Mrs. Chadwick left it behind, and Jenny had not moved it. However, the conversation with her mother made her insecurities rush into overdrive, and paranoia usually followed.

Calmer now, she tried to shut the drawer, but it wouldn’t close. Jenny jiggled it, and it still wouldn’t budge. She glanced underneath and saw the culprit—a piece of paper caught between the back of the drawer and the track. She grabbed it by its end and pulled it hard. In one swift motion as if it were a Band-Aid on sore skin, the paper dislodged.

“Oh, this is what I need right now,” she muttered realizing that she set free her rejection letter from the DIH. She opened the letter to read it again – torture seemed appropriate now – wondering why it would have been in the drawer in the first place. She had a DIH file for items like this.

“Dear Ms. Hobbs,” she read aloud with a sarcastic tone, “Thank you for your interest in the Daughters of Independence Hall. It is unfortunate that we cannot offer you membership at this time. This does not mean you shouldn’t try again next year, and with a hefty $250 processing fee,” she added for an extra dose. “This year’s inductees are members with a direct lineage to those who drafted our country’s finest document, the Declaration of Independence. If you would like to use our ancestry services to see if you might have a connection, or you can prove lineage with notarized documents blah, blah, blah…”

Jenny crumbled the paper and threw it in the wastebasket. She removed it a second later and ironed the crumpled paper with her hands. She would file this and keep it handy, maybe use it to torture herself again when she deserved it.

The DIH was part of her heritage, and that’s why she couldn’t let it go. Her grandmother served years before Martha Chadwick’s reign and change of rules, and her father continued the family legacy when he became a Revolutionary War Re-enactor, a hobby he consumed with passion each weekend during tourist season. He approached the crowds at Independence Hall, urging them to join General Washington’s army while parading down the cobble stone streets. If her mother didn’t keep her busy with other activities, such as dance classes and gymnastics, which she despised because she was a klutz, she could attend the weekend parades with her father, dressed appropriately in her own colonial dress that her grandmother hand-made. Her mother thought her desire to be a part of an old stodgy club ridiculous, just as she thought about her father’s association, and claimed he embarrassed his family by dressing in costume each week. The bitter comment made it easy for Jenny to bury him in his uniform – her parents had divorced by then making it her choice – with his trusty musket next to him.

Jenny failed to continue the legacy with her ill-fated attempt to join the DIH, a huge embarrassment for her, and one for her father as well if he had been alive to witness it. Her grandmother’s name as legacy connection on her application didn’t help and she realized that the fine woman of yesterday, who raised plenty of awareness for her beloved club meant nothing to the current crop of women who ran the show today. That made it easier for Jenny to decide to raise awareness her way, and her only solution – discretely write about them and on occasion, expose their flaws.

The shop door opened setting off the familiar sound of the visitors’ bell, and breaking the spell of her reverie.

“Good morning, Mr. Hiller,” she offered with a smile as a man from the neighborhood strolled through the door. “Here for your lottery ticket, are you?” Mr. Hiller lived in a red brick colonial on the corner that did have a historic plaque displayed. As a frequent customer, he stopped in a few times a week for lottery tickets and a chat.

Mr. Hiller nodded. “That I am, dear girl,” he said combing his wavy white hair back into place with his fingers. The March winds were blustery, despite the warmth of the sun, and he looked smashing in a dark tan Burberry raincoat. “I’m also going to buy that teapot I’ve been admiring,” he continued. “I know Mrs. Hiller would fancy it if she were here.” He looked sad for a moment, but brushed it away and smiled again. “We had one like it when we first married. I don’t know what took me as long as it did to give in to it.” His comment tugged at her heartstrings, and Jenny could not decide if his gesture, although romantic, seemed too doleful. “I know it seems silly,” he continued as if he was reading her thoughts, “but when I have my afternoon tea, it will be like she is a part of it.”

Jenny felt her eyes prickle and when the tears formed, she fought off the temptation to let them flow. His wife had passed away after a long illness the day after Halloween. She knew what Mr. Hiller meant, and as maudlin as it might seem, she understood.

“You think I’m foolish,” Mr. Hiller said.

She looked at him and smiled. “On the contrary, Mr. Hiller, I think it’s a wonderful way to honor her memory.” He reminded her of Claude Raines, the actor who played opposite Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca’. “You have impeccable taste, too,” Jenny continued, taking the white teapot with the rose buds off the shelf to cradle it in bubble wrap. “This is the finest item in the shop right now.” After, she walked over to the lone piece of modern equipment in the store, the lottery machine. It seemed foreign in the land of curio cabinets, hope chests, maple rocking chairs and teapots, but it did bring a new set of customers into the store on a regular basis. Still, she did not want to admit that the idea to add the lottery machine proved successful because it came from her mother.

“I have a feeling about this one, Jenny. I’m a jackpot away from the good life, you know.”

“Same numbers?” she asked with a smile. “I have a feeling about this one, too, Mr. Hiller.”

“The same,” he said, as she punched in the date of his anniversary, his wife’s birthday, his birthday, the birthdays of their two Scotties, and both of their ages when they married. Finding his actions sentimental and romantic, Jenny knew his numbers by heart. Once the ticket printed, she handed it to Mr. Hiller and wished him luck. In turn, he handed her $50 for the teapot, and four one-dollar bills for the lottery ticket. “Print another one up, will you? And include the numbers you want this time.”

Puzzled, Jenny shook her head. “No, Mr. Hiller, I don’t play the lottery. I don’t believe in taking chances.” The words made her stop for a moment, as it became clear her confession rang true in most aspects of her life. The realization both embarrassed her and crushed her spirit. No wonder Andrew ignored her. She had no essence.

Mr. Hiller’s brow furrowed as her father’s would when she would put herself down, and he would beg her not to listen to her mother’s harsh criticisms. “I don’t believe that for a second, Jenny. You never turn a gift away, and how will you ever accomplish anything if you don’t take a chance now and then?”

Too shook up for a genuine smile, Jenny nodded and presented a false one and hoped it appeared authentic. It seemed crazy to argue, and she didn’t have the energy to refuse. “You’re too good to me, Mr. Hiller, but I don’t know which numbers to play.”

“Ah, I can’t help you with that, Jenny,” he said with a hint of an English accent that still clung to him after all of the years spent in the States. “Play the numbers that are special to you.”

Jenny thought for a moment and then let the machine select random numbers. They were just as special as any she could conjure up. She had a better chance at marrying a resurrected Cary Grant than winning the lottery, anyway.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter One

old_city010May 22, 2015 – The morning sun pierced through the window and coaxed the button on the black velvet cloth alive. Its smooth facets bathed in the light, taking on the appearance of a sizeable diamond.

Jenny Hobbs, proprietor of Pine Street Antiques in Philadelphia studied the piece through her jeweler’s loupe. Made of glass, the button resembled a delicate version of the doorknobs used in the grander homes of the 19th century. A quick examination revealed that the piece, close to 150 years old by her estimation, held considerable value.

Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” whispered in the background as her customer’s fingers tapped on the glass counter with deliberate movements that kept in time with the music, yet expressed impatience. Message received. Jenny had ogled the button long enough, and this particular customer, accustomed to getting what she wanted when she wanted it, waited for a response.

“You don’t find too many pieces like this floating around these days, Mrs. Chadwick,” Jenny said without taking her eyes off the button. “I can’t promise an exact match, but I have reliable sources, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Jenny’s reputation as the historic authority preceded her throughout Old City society, yet she lacked the pedigree considered a prerequisite to join Martha Chadwick’s circles. Her ancestors had not fought in the Revolutionary War, and her father’s lifelong work as a butcher and the plain name he passed on to her made her a mere commoner to members of society.

Yet the upper crust relied on her, today to track down a matching button for an antique garment, a rather simple task for a card-carrying member of the National Button Society, but more often to find a piece of antique furniture, or to repair a damaged setting of china or crystal. Through the years, Jenny gathered a unique set of antique buttons she kept in a safe in the back room, but none came close to the one on the cloth before her. It may not belong to her, but she knew the button would make a handsome addition to her collection.

“Do you want me to contact the retailer who sold you the dress?” Jenny asked. “Maybe we could pool our resources and double our chances. On the other hand, we could have one made to look like it. It won’t be authentic, but it will match.” Jenny had her own reasons to call the previous owner of the button, aside from helping her client. Another contact in the business, one who traveled in her circles, never hurt.

Jenny glanced at the woman across the counter with apprehension, took a deep breath, and waited for a response. Martha Chadwick’s face registered disappointment, at least as much as she could muster as she stopped tapping her fingers. She had to be close to seventy, but a skilled plastic surgeon, along with frequent Botox shots helped her look twenty years younger. The downside, she resembled Jack Nicholson’s Joker from “Batman”. Nevertheless, the tone of her voice could command a roomful of angry men, and convey any emotion her face lacked.

Martha Chadwick appeared to find joy in making people uncomfortable, her silence endless and awkward. Some described her as haughty, and with qualities similar to a gale force wind, but Jenny considered that perhaps she earned the right to be smug. You could trace her lineage back to the Revolutionary War, and to Edward Rutledge, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a fact Mrs. Chadwick would share with anyone who would listen. This and her proper demeanor gave her the credentials to chair the chapters of several Philadelphia historic societies. Either that, or she intimidated everyone and she got her way to avoid confrontation.

“I’d be happier with an authentic match,” Mrs. Chadwick said. The unpleasant smirk she tried to flash made it difficult to believe anything could make this woman happy. She appeared constipated. “We have time,” Martha Chadwick continued. “The DIH gala is months away.”

The DIH or Daughters of Independence Hall – the grandest of all historic societies whose membership included well-to-do women from Philadelphia’s Main Line and Old City – had the exclusiveness Martha Chadwick demanded. Inside its sacred walls, the daughters performed philanthropic acts for the community, and they did admirable work, but could handle much more if they loosened their strict membership criteria and allowed average citizens to join.

Because of their nonprofit status, the DIH received government grants to keep the club functioning, and sometimes it seemed the elite organization became more of a place for these wealthy socialites to stroke their egos than a means to help the needy in the city. Under Martha Chadwick’s reign, members were required to be descendants of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a rule that kept the club small, yet could be overlooked if the executive committee, which she chaired, desired. Jenny had been tempted to check the legality of maintaining exclusivity while accepting government funding. Instead, she let it go because she did not want to ruffle the feathers of the DIH women who kept her in business.

If Jenny had courage, she would apply again – or at least press the matter why the DIH turned her away last year. She could match any member with historic knowledge, and she had the added benefit of expertise in the Colonial period, a great respect for her city’s history, and a genuine desire to help. What else could they want?

Still, Jenny realized no law she either knew of or had been willing to research, demanded Martha Chadwick or her cronies to explain further. They viewed Jenny as the hired help, a servant at their disposal, not someone to share tea and gossip with, and not someone with the proper lineage.

“My daughter found the dress on the Internet if you can believe that,” Mrs. Chadwick said as if it were the most embarrassing secret she held. “From a private owner in Boston. It’s in perfect condition, except for the missing button.”

“Would you consider changing all the buttons if I find something authentic but somewhat different?” Jenny asked, again looking through her loupe before glancing back at Mrs. Chadwick. She considered it an accommodating question, but Martha’s pursed lips stated otherwise.

“Heaven’s no,” she replied, her sharp tone matching the bite in her green eyes. Perhaps they were warm once, but no amount of money or plastic surgery could make someone empathetic. Her expression changed a moment later, and she began to reconsider.

“Let’s not rule that out as a last resort. A woman who attended Washington’s inaugural ball wore this dress. Supposedly, his mistress,” she added in a hushed voice, as if she did not want to embarrass the most famous of the fore fathers. Jenny resisted cracking a smile as Martha looked around to make sure they were still alone. The rare bit of pleasant conversation from her toughest client took her by surprise, and she welcomed it.

“It’s interesting you mention Washington’s inaugural ball,” Jenny said. “I saw a picture of Martha’s dress in a historical periodical last month. The story claimed it was plain because Martha didn’t care for high fashion, and she didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something frivolous after the war.”

Jenny could relate. Mrs. Chadwick, however, did not look amused and Jenny realized she needed to change the subject, fast. It exhausted her to play games with the socialites. “How many buttons are on the dress?” she asked.

“About 15,” Mrs. Chadwick said. Of course, the woman who knew everything down to the smallest detail for every function she planned made it a point to know the exact number of buttons on the dress, so why did she have to give Jenny a difficult time? “The buttons run down the back of the entire length of the garment,” Mrs. Chadwick added.

“A sign of the times,” Jenny said. “Did you know the zipper didn’t become part of the garment industry until the early 1900s?” She often rambled when nervous. “If you ask me, it may have made dressing easier, but we lost a great sense of style when they began incorporating it, don’t you think?”

Martha Chadwick looked pleased. “That means this button predates the zipper by about 120 years,” she said, both hands touching her cheeks in awe like a woman in menopause having a hot flash. “How valuable is it?”

The button postdated the Revolutionary War era, Jenny knew for sure from the artisanship, but she let the woman have her fantasy for now. It might have come from the Civil War era, predating the zipper by 60 years since they did not have the machinery to make the facets in the glass until the 1840s. The previous owner may have updated the buttons, or stretched the truth when selling the garment it to Mrs. Chadwick. Either way, the buttons were exquisite. “I’ll have to do a little research to pinpoint an exact amount, but I’d guess about $100 per button.”

Jenny could tell Mrs. Chadwick believed she made a smart deal, and after assuring the safety of her acquired treasure, Jenny watched the woman walk out the door as Beethoven’s “Fifth” came to its dramatic end. The next piece on the Beethoven CD, the softer “Ode to Joy” reset the shop’s atmosphere with Martha Chadwick gone, and the irony made her grin.

She wrapped the button in the velvet cloth, placed it in the locked drawer beneath the cash register, and glanced at her watch. Twenty more minutes to lunch, she thought. She had skipped breakfast that morning and her stomach signaled a reminder with a loud growl. At noon, she would lock up for an hour and head upstairs where she resided in the second floor apartment. A creature of habit, lunch served best at noon, and on most days, she kept to the comfort of her routine.

Her father left her the store and the rest of the building, a two hundred fifty year old, three-story red brick colonial when he passed away four years before. Although her property did not appear on the list of historic places, an effort too expensive for her wallet, Jenny kept the place in excellent condition, with a shop on the ground floor and two apartments above. The butcher shop wouldn’t work — she was vegetarian — so she transformed it into an antique and specialty shop, a noble choice for someone who had a passion for the past. She likened the shop to the specialty store featured in the old James Stewart movie, “The Shop Around the Corner”, yet her shop lacked the drama brought on by employees since she never had the need to hire any.

Her best customers were the society women in the area, and her passion paid well. They accounted for at least seventy percent of the shop’s income, but they gave her much more than their business. The women spoke at liberty in Jenny’s presence, and she absorbed the stories of the grand galas they planned and attended for their historic associations. Jenny listened to each detail, as a good bartender would, yet never offered her opinion. She wished she could be a part of their world, not because of their wealth, but because of her fascination with America’s history at the root of it, and she wrote the details in her journal so she would remember them. She knew well before the rest of the community a certain fundraiser would pay for the brick pointing at Christ Church, the oldest church in Philadelphia dating back to the early 1700s, and the education luncheon would pay for four scholarships awarded to needy kids in West Philadelphia. She also knew the latest news, that the summer community picnic planned for the week of July 4, the busiest season in Philadelphia would raise money for a nearby army fort whose soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan.

A year ago, right after her DIH application found its way to the “unaccepted” pile she began turning those journal entries into a series of bimonthly articles for the society column in the “Old City Weekly,” a neighborhood newspaper with a faithful readership. She tried to focus on the positive contributions made by the DIH, but at times, she’d add a comment about how they could do more if they relaxed their membership guidelines. When she felt bolder, she would sprinkle it with vengeance and question some of their decisions, but nothing too vicious. She sent her first story to the hesitant editor, who did not see the benefit until Jenny urged him to keep an open mind. She had the inside access to their exclusive circle, and if he wanted meatier content than the standard media release issued by the DIH, she could get it for him. The promise of inside information intrigued the hungry editor, who suggested Jenny have a little fun with it. He persuaded her to find a unique voice to make the articles compelling to readers across the broader area, and not simply the few interested in a society column. She agreed to take on the challenge his way and wrote under the pen name Carrie Grant as a tribute to her favorite old time screen idol, and the twist she added at the end of each segment tied in to one of his films, such as “The Philadelphia Story” or “His Gal Friday.” The stories grew in popularity, and became more prevalent when the paper refused to reveal the writer’s identity to the local news media, and a mystery unfolded. Her fans – yes, she had them, a thought that still made her laugh – attempted to uncover the true identity of Carrie Grant, but with the shop acting as the perfect cover, no one came close to guessing the plain Jenny Hobbs could be the culprit. The society women did not suspect Jenny either because they paid her no mind when they did not require her services. Even in their presence, she remained invisible.

The phone rang and Jenny answered it on the first ring.

“Jennifer, it’s your mother,” the voice said, as if it could be anyone else. No one else called her Jennifer.

“This is a surprise,” she said as her body stiffened and tried to fight the anxiety that often accompanied their conversations. She picked up a paper clip lying on the counter and began twisting it. “What’s up, Mom?”

“You left your gloves here when you came to brunch yesterday. Do you want me to swing by and drop them off?”

“Thanks, but don’t go out of your way. I’ll get them next week.”

“That’s fine,” her mother said. “Oh, and I told my neighbor you’d be able to help her track down a night stand for her antique bedroom suite. She’ll either call you or stop by this week.” Her mother sounded friendly enough to the inexperienced ear, but Jenny knew the depths of her cutting words.

“I appreciate the referral, Mom.”

“I figured you could use the business. You hardly seem busy, Jennifer. I don’t know how you’re staying open in this economy.”

There it was, the criticism she waited for. “Business is fine, Mom.” It became her obligatory reply. “The economy isn’t really a major issue for most of my clients since their incomes are greater than those of many small countries,” a slight exaggeration, and one she delivered with a snarky bite. By this point, she had bent the paper clip into oblivion, and stabbed her finger in the process.

“I’ll have to take your word for that,” she said. “It’s unfortunate at your age you don’t have a husband’s salary to fall back on.”

Jenny cringed at the last zinger. Up until this point, the criticism had been mild, but she knew her mother had to get in something that smarted. The paper clip snapped in two and lay on the counter destroyed. “I have to go, Mom. There is a customer coming in. Thanks for the call.” She hung up before her mother had a chance to speak again.

Jenny’s status, thirty-nine, and single, and one her mother loved to dwell upon, likely wouldn’t change. She hadn’t dated anyone in a while, and she didn’t understand why that stuck in her mother’s craw. She had to listen to her mother’s disappointment on Sunday mornings at brunch, and she paid her dues yesterday. The bleak lineup of guests at her mother’s mandatory Sunday brunch included her new husband, Harry Bedford, if he was not traveling for whatever he did for a living, his two obnoxious twin daughters, Emma and Sarah, and their mind-numbing fiancés whose names escaped her. The foursome planned a double wedding in June, which made things far worse for her mother, and created a lot of dreadful brunch conversation. At least, she tried to tell herself, she was getting both weddings out of the way in one day. She wouldn’t have to listen to this again. Jenny did not mind being single, she grew rather used to it, but it embarrassed her mother, who enjoyed helping the girls plan their weddings. Jenny realized that nothing short of a grand wedding fit for royalty would make her mother happy.

Debonair men such as Cary Grant or Clark Gable did not exist anymore, and Jenny knew she would not be happy with anything less after a steady diet of romantic old movies through the years. The modern man did not suit her, and she knew she did not suit them, either.

“Blessed with looking younger than your years serves no purpose for you Jenny,” her mother would say. “You don’t take advantage of your assets.”

Those assets included light brown hair that hung straight to her shoulders in a lifeless blunt cut, which would shine with simple caramel highlights, her Mother also wheedled, and sad brown eyes that a bit of makeup would perk up, all traits she inherited from her father’s side of the family, she added. Jenny once asked her mother if she liked anything about her. If so, she never complimented her. Her mother shooed away the question, and tried instead to persuade Jenny to get a makeover on a local morning talk show. “You have to suffer to be beautiful,” her mother said. “Henry knows someone at the station, and could make a call. It would be good for you and the shop.”

Not one to crave attention, Jenny turned down the offer and claimed she enjoyed dressing her thin, medium height frame in comfortable sweaters and dresses worn with ballet flats or clogs – better known as men repellent by her stepsisters. She heard them whispering behind her back, referring to her as the old maid. Sure, there were times of solitude – an active social life proved difficult when you lost touch with most of your friends because they married and started families – but she carved out an agreeable existence for herself, and she learned to be happy with what she had.

“Not everyone can be a cheerleader, Mom,” she argued. “Some of us prefer the bleachers.”

“Sitting in the bleachers is not enough to give me grandchildren,” her mother replied. “It requires a little enthusiastic ‘rah rah’ to make that happen.”

Jenny had a few dates here and there, and her share of crushes and desires through the years, though many times unrequited. Her current interest, Andrew Gordon, a man she thought to be about five years her senior, possessed the old world charm she found attractive. She kept the secret to herself, knowing if her mother knew, she would never let it go. Andrew, who by day headed the American History department at the University of Pennsylvania, led her historic biography book club. Aside from his voice, deep and sometimes gruff when he spoke, he reminded Jenny of Gregory Peck when he starred with Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” She did not know his relationship status, although he did not wear a wedding ring or talk about a wife or children. Yet, outside of being pleasant, he hadn’t shown her a smidgeon of romantic interest, either. When she suggested the group read the new John Adams biography for their next selection, she thought she detected a twinkle of approval in his eyes, and she didn’t see it again until another member, Melissa Babcock, suggested they read “Benjamin Franklin: Beyond What You Already Know,” a book penned by Andrew himself. Jenny would have suggested the same, but it seemed too obvious, even flirtatious, and she had already read it after its release. Andrew knew it too, because he wrote a personal message inside the front cover when he signed it for her. She read the passage when she wanted to feel close to him, aware she succumbed to the actions of a teenager, but it helped her through the day sometimes.

Jenny wished she could be flirtatious like Melissa and other young women, but her social awkwardness served as a constant reminder of her lack of confidence.