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.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Eleven

downloadJune 26, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Martha Chadwick sashayed into the library of her grand home on 3rd Street in Old City as if she were the Queen of England. The three-story brick colonial with large airy rooms complete with fireplaces, exposed brick and a plethora of amenities to make life comfortable for her and her husband, acted as her sanctuary. Many of the rooms, unused even when the house sheltered her children, had been updated every few years whether they needed it or not.

“The house has a personality,” she’d say to her husband who gave in to her desires when it came to decorating, “and when you change one room, the others need to change, too.”

Outside, the plaque hung on the brick front stating that the home, more than 250 years old, predated the Revolutionary War. Tourists and locals alike walked by in awe and Martha relished in their admiration.

Research proved that the home once belonged to a wealthy British American clan until about 100 years ago when they sold it to a group who turned it into an American Legion Hall. In the late 1970s, new owners converted it back to a residential structure with apartments, and then a few years later, they put it for sale on the market at a grand price, which Martha and her husband willingly paid. They were starting out back then, and she was pregnant with their second child. Too bad the real estate market crashed in recent years, and the home was valued less than they paid for it. She had no plans to sell the grand home, so it didn’t matter.

Martha loved everything about her handsome home, from the antiques that furnished it, to the large windows that let in the light in the daytime and provided a picturesque view of the city at nighttime, especially from the upper floors. Yet, as much as she loved it, it felt lonely at times, now that their two children, a perfect boy and girl, a rich man’s family as it was also known, were grown and gone. Their portraits, painted by one of the city’s finest artists hung above the fireplace in the grand living room, and it was hard to walk by without smiling no matter what her mood. Her son and daughter both lived in California now, Bobby, a movie producer, and Melanie, an artist, enjoying the laid-back Southern California lifestyle. Bobby did well financially, but Melanie would call a few times a year and ask for money. Proud of both her children, Martha kept Melanie’s money situation hushed, even from her husband. That was OK. Her children deserved anything they wanted. After all, they gave her no trouble growing up, achieved excellent grades from the finest area schools, and aside from their distance in miles, stayed close to her and her husband. What more could a parent ask for?

The home felt lonelier still now that her husband became accustomed to working round the clock. Their law firm was not doing as much business as they once did in this chilling economy. The layoffs of much of the staff created more work for those who remained. Life was not fair sometimes, Martha thought. This should be the golden time of their life when they get to enjoy each other and their fortune. However, her husband would never consider retirement. His work, an alluring mistress, had become a bigger problem for her than if he had another woman on the side like most men of his stature. Martha believed another woman would be easier to fight.

The end of the week arrived, and they had a glorious weekend planned. A visit to their country house on the Chesapeake Bay would be what they both needed. She had the bags packed by the door, and they would be on their way as soon as he came home from the office.

While flipping through the mail, her cell phone rang, and she knew it was her husband and he had a situation. Most likely he would be late again, and they would not get on the road as early as she had hoped.

“Tell me you’ll be coming home soon,” she said without even saying hello. After all the years of marriage, those little niceties were gone from both of them.

“I’m afraid the situation is worse than that, Martha,” he said. “I have to prepare for a hearing on Tuesday morning, a last minute case, and I won’t be able to go at all.”

“No,” Martha said, feeling disappointed once again. “Can’t you bring your paperwork with you and work there?”

“We’re preparing witnesses all weekend. I think you should still go, though. Grab one of those DIH friends of yours and have a ladies weekend.”

Martha sighed. No chance that would happen without plenty of advanced notice, and although she hated missing another weekend on the bay, she would have to accept it. She hung up angry, as she did plenty these days, and sat at her desk as her eyes filled at tears. An entire weekend with nothing to do might please many women, but she was not one of them. How would she fill the endless hours ahead?

She knew what she wanted to do, but fought off the temptation. The last time she engaged in her guilty pleasure, she swore it would be the last. It would be too difficult to explain the missing funds if she caved in once more. As she glanced in the mirror above her desk, her seventy-something year old face looked tired, and she knew what she had to do. There were new lines that needed care and she would act now, deal with the problem directly, and fix them. That would make her feel better, and she deserved it.

She dialed the phone and secured her suite at the Ritz Carlton knowing her doctor would make an emergency house call if she required. Then the icing on the cake was she would not be spotted going into the doctor’s office, and she could continue to be very vague about plastic surgery and other procedures. It would be an expensive weekend but she would worry about that on Sunday, when she would also decide how she could hide the costs of her extravagance since the doctor would likely charge double for a last minute appointment. Then there would be the cost of other spa treatments she’d need during the weekend, all in the privacy of her suite at the Ritz Carlton. Her husband would not be happy about it, but she would find a lie that would work or at least make him feel guilty for abandoning her. It became harder to explain spending that much cash, but she needed more when she felt ignored. She managed to work it out in the end leaving him none the wiser.

Then she spotted the DIH checkbook in her handbag. She could get away with this just once, as she did last year. She could explain the missing money to them much easier than she could to her husband. He would just say the hurtful words he’d said before, that she was addicted to plastic surgery. That wasn’t true. Still, it was not right to use the club’s money, but if anyone deserved a little reward like this, she did, after the endless hours she volunteered to the DIH, taking care of the littlest details to please everyone. Besides, she would pay it back down the road. She had before. This was the way to keep her sanity, she reasoned. There was no need to leave a note for her husband about her staying at a hotel in the city. He would assume she went to the Chesapeake house, and he would think it was frivolous and unnecessary to sleep away from home in the same city in which she lived. Soon after finalizing her plans, and securing the doctor’s time, she found her smile again.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Ten

imagesJune 23, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

The alarm erupted at 6:30 a.m. with a shrill. Jenny stared at the ceiling letting the sound fill the room, and when it became unbearable, she rolled over her nightstand and pressed the off button on the clock radio. The harsh reality of last night made sleep impossible; all night she rehashed the conversation with Andrew, cursing herself for allowing her imagination to let it get this far. She let down her protective armor and he plunged the sword directly into her heart.

Worse, she remembered what she thought had been an innocent conversation with Melissa Babcock a few months back, when she confided in her that she found Andrew attractive, and wondered if he was single. That was difficult enough to say to another human being, and she didn’t know Melissa all that well, so why would she trust her? God, she hoped Melissa did not tell him about that conversation. She closed her eyes in shame and the tears welled in her eyes again.

She didn’t believe she ever had a chance with Andrew, but his confession last night took her daydreams away, and that was worse than dealing with reality. Those daydreams were her crutch, and although she could get along without a man in her life, she didn’t know if she could carry on without an allusion of one. Yes, it was pathetic and she didn’t fully understand it herself, but she could survive on that fantasy as long as the reality never set in. Last night, reality had hit big time.

She lifted her tired body out of bed and began her routine. Despite her sad state, she had a business to run. Somehow, she would have to find a way to get through the day. She managed to take a shower, dress and dry her hair with little effort. When she sat down to breakfast, realizing she had better try to eat something, the doorbell rang. She sighed. She was not in the mood to put up with Fiona, but realized she should apologize for blowing her off last night.

She opened the door to a coiffed Fiona, ready to walk the four blocks to work. “You hurt my feelings yesterday,” she said. Then her face softened, and Jenny could tell she knew something happened last night. “You look awful, Jenny. Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” Jenny said. “I will be fine.”

“What happened?” Fiona asked.

Jenny had not told Fiona much about her feelings for Andrew. She never had the chance to, and did not want to risk it by making it real. She felt safer and less embarrassed that way. Fiona monopolized most of their conversations anyway with chatter about her love life.

“I found out my biography book club leader is seeing one of the other members, and it kind of shocked me,” she said, not needing to go further.

Fiona sighed. “Oh, Jenny, I’m sorry,” she said with plenty of compassion. “I knew you liked him. I could tell. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jenny shrugged, her eyes teeming with tears. “I didn’t expect anything to happen, and now it turns out that it won’t, so why talk about it?”

“Because that’s what girlfriends do,” Fiona said placing her arm around Jenny’s shoulder, and walking in the front door. “Let’s have a cup of tea and chat a bit. It’s OK if we’re both a little late today.”

In a zombie like trance caused by the lack of sleep as much as her disappointment, Jenny sat at the table while Fiona prepared tea. It may have been her house, but Fiona knew her way around it.

Five minutes later, they sat at the kitchen table like two Irish lasses having their morning tea. “You know I can help you win him over,” Fiona said sipping the hot liquid sweetened with honey. “It’s not too late.”

Maybe for Fiona that rang true, but for Jenny, it was over before it ever began.

“You should let him know how you feel about him,” Fiona said. “No man can resist a woman’s desire for him. It will put you in a different light in his eyes. Besides, this is the first man I have known you to care about in a long time, Jenny. You deserve to be happy.”

“So does Melissa. I can’t come between them. I’m not like you.” She watched Fiona wince, and felt bad. She hadn’t meant it to come out that way. “I’m sorry, Fiona. She offered her friend a half-smile. “I guess you want to lay into me now.”

Fiona offered back a smile of relief. “In my heart, I know you are right, but you are stronger than I am. Believe it or not, I respect you for that.” She paused for a moment and took a sip of the hot tea. “Doug broke up with me last night, Jenny, so I had a rough one too. I wish I could think the way you do, but I can’t.”

Jenny realized she could make real progress with her friend if this conversation unfolded correctly. “Perhaps that’s not a bad thing,” she said. “You must want to find someone who can be with you on the major holidays, right?”

Fiona’s eyes filled with tears, too. “I do,” she said. “I do. But I’m so scared.”

“What is there to be scared about?” Jenny asked, speaking as a woman with lots of dating experience. That’s a laugh. She was scared too. “You’re beautiful and charming and have a lot to offer any man.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, tell that to Doug. He broke up with me because his wife found out about us. He wants to make it work so she won’t take away his business. And for the kids, too, I suppose.” Fiona took a tissue and blotted her eyes so she would not mess up her eye makeup. “Do you know he had the gall to blame me? He said I told too many people about us, and that’s why it got back to her.”

Jenny smiled. “That’s probably true,” she said.

“I can’ help it,” Fiona said. “I talk about him because I am proud of him, and I want him back.”

Jenny shook her head. “No you don’t,” she said. “You want someone in your life, but I don’t believe it’s him. Find someone new, Fiona. He has a family that needs him.”
Fiona shrugged again. “I’m not sure I know how to leave him alone. It’s hard, you know, because my world is so small.”

“That doesn’t seem to slow you down,” Jenny said. “Maybe you should give therapy another try. There is no shame in it. These days it is a status symbol. I could use some myself.”
Fiona shrugged.

“And now I’m going to tell you something I haven’t been able to before. But it’s for your own good, you know.”

Fiona smiled. “I’m not sure I’m ready.”

“Get ready,” Jenny said. “It’s time to figure out why you go for the unattainable men, and why you end up sabotaging it. Correct me if I am wrong, but most of your relationships end the same way, because you’ve told too many people about it, and people talk. And don’t give me the line that you’re proud of these relationships and that’s why you talk to everyone about them.”

Fiona looked at her with a wave of shock on her face. “When did you get the degree in psychiatry?”

Jenny shrugged. “I’m sorry, but it’s time you listen to reason or you’ll continue this pattern and end up alone. There are only so many men in Philadelphia, you know.”

Fiona laughed. “Wow, I’m not sure what’s in that tea, but I don’t want to drink it anymore.”

“I’m sorry, Fiona. Promise me you’ll at least think about what I said.”

Fiona got up and put on her coat. “I’ll think about it, she said, placing her cell phone in the coat pocket. It had been by her side the entire time they were having tea, and Jenny caught her looking at it several times. Baby steps. That is all each of them could take right now.

Fifteen minutes later, Jenny opened the shop, and waved goodbye to Fiona through the window. They both received a major blow last night, and as tough at it seemed they would get through it. This felt like brand new territory to Jenny, and she felt determined to learn something from the experience, and make sure it never happened again. She had experienced unrequited feelings before, and although they were disappointing, it did not feel like this. She didn’t want to accept hurt so much because she loved him.

When the UPS delivery truck parked in front of the store, Jenny welcomed the distraction. Most likely the buttons had arrived, and when the man in brown handed her the package, she signed for it and then opened it with gusto. Inside the velvet pouch, wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap, sat three exquisite buttons that matched Mrs. Chadwick’s gown perfectly. She took the original out of the drawer below the register to examine them side by side to confirm it. She received a bargain. The distributer sold three buttons to her for $240. She figured they were still worth about $100 each, but she got a discount from the distributor. She wrapped one for Mrs. Chadwick, wrote up a bill for $125.00, and planned to add the remaining two to her growing collection. She realized that the high of a successful business transaction would not last long-term, but for now, she relished in it, and hoped she could ride that to get through her day.

Next, she left a message for Mrs. Chadwick who did not answer the phone. “Mrs. Chadwick, its Jenny from Pine Street Antiques. I have good news. The button is an exact match, and I have it here for you. Let me know if you want me to deliver it, or if you will pick it up at the store. Thanks.”

She could breathe a sigh of relief. Things would work out for both of them. For once, she had gotten what she wanted and fulfilled her client’s needs at the same time.

She jumped a little when the door opened and watched Charlotte Ampstead, another customer from the DIH walk in.

“Good morning, Jenny,” Charlotte said. “How are you today?”

“Charlotte,” Jenny answered with a smile. Charlotte insisted Jenny call her by her first name, unlike all of the other DIH members. “It’s good to see you. How can I help you?”

Jenny enjoyed Charlotte’s company. As the one member of the DIH who considered her feelings and treated her with courtesy, Jenny knew Charlotte would make a good friend. “I’m looking for a birthday present for my mother,” she said. “It’s still six weeks away, but I hope you can help me track something down that I know she’d love.” Charlotte showed her a picture of a Louis XIV mahogany writing desk that looked like it belonged in a museum. “It doesn’t have to be this model,” she said, “I’m looking for something similar.”

The way Charlotte smiled, she reminded Jenny of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” minus the cigarette holder. Charlotte did look stunning in a black dress and pearls.

“It’s beautiful”, Jenny offered. “I think I can find a few nice pieces for you to consider. Are you looking for a chair to go with it? Sometimes distributors won’t break up a set.”

Charlotte nodded. “I hadn’t thought about that, but yes,” she said. “Thanks, Jenny.”

Jenny smiled. “Give me a day or so and I’ll have some photos for you to view.” She jotted down some notes, and attached Charlotte’s photo to them with a paperclip. “So how are things at the DIH?”

Charlotte smiled. “They’re fine,” she said. “A little unrest between the board members here and there, but we’re on track.” Charlotte paused. “You know, I am sorry about your application, Jenny. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it, but the time never seemed right. I know it’s sensitive for you. I do recommend that you try again. If it’s any conciliation, I voted for you.”
Jenny smiled. “It helps. I’m sure I didn’t receive another vote though.”

Charlotte shook her head. “Not true, you did have another vote. I know I shouldn’t be telling you this, but it was a tie. The head chair is charged with breaking ties, so…”

“Her vote counts twice,” Jenny said. “It’s probably for the best. Things are a little crazy.”

Charlotte smiled again. “So, you’re not going to try again? The new session starts in June. We could use someone like you, you know. You have so much knowledge and insight, and you have your finger on the pulse of the community. I can’t imagine why they can’t see that.”

“Maybe because they are immune to reality,” Jenny said. Her somewhat bitter mood made it easier to be truthful. “They should take a look at the real people and see what they need.”

Charlotte shook her head. “I agree, Jenny. I do.”

“Refurbishing the cobblestones on Elfreth’s Alley is important, but is it as important as feeding the hungry, or sending a well deserving kid from a low-income family off to college? I don’t think so.” Jenny felt a twinge in her stomach when she realized she revealed some private information she had overheard in the shop last week when Martha Chadwick and Georgia McKean had been involved in a heated debate on the topic. Jenny was in the back office looking through some paperwork to find a phone number for Mrs. McKean, who had been looking for two more dining room chairs to match her set, but she had over heard it all loud and clear.

Charlotte looked at her most likely wondering how she knew something no one outside of the DIH did, and Jenny realized that she revealed too much. “I read about it in the paper,” Jenny added, hoping to cover her tracks, but she knew well that the paper did not mention Elfreth’s Alley. Instead, it referred to the repainting project for the Betsy Ross House. How could she be so stupid? She had written the article! Now she had to find something new to focus on because that was to be her next piece.

“I do believe you’re right,” Charlotte said. She did not push it further. “I’m off to the Red Cross to help plan the Red Ball. It will be in October this year, and if you’re interested, we could use the help.”
Jenny nodded. “I’d love to help,” she said, still feeling flustered that she may have revealed too much. “Let me know what I can do.”

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Nine

breakupJanuary 19, 2015Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Fiona paced through her living room with the intensity of a caged animal, taking the time for the occasional glance onto the street from the large picture window. She moved with a swift pace, ignoring the heaviness of her limbs.

On a typical day, she enjoyed the view from the third floor, the lights of the high-rise buildings twinkled like stars that you could not see in the city. Tonight the view did not matter. It seemed lost on her, although she did notice the loud and disrupting traffic peppered with more sirens than usual. It all seemed too much for 7 p.m. on a Thursday night. Most people should have left the city by now, the workday long gone, as they ventured back to their suburban homes.

“Where the hell is she?” she said aloud. It was not like Jenny to close shop and not come up stairs right after. As an agoraphobic, Fiona traveled the streets more than Jenny.

Desperate for someone to talk to, and to reassure her that she did not make a colossal mistake, Fiona needed Jenny now. At times like this, it hurt that she did not have another girlfriend. The last few hours, still blurry in her mind, left her feeling hopeless. Doug had stopped by that afternoon to share startling news, and she had been on an emotional roller coaster ever since.

“My wife found out about us,” he had said. Those were the hopeful words she thought would lead to him saying he left her and they could be together at last. Instead, he continued with words she didn’t expect, words that seemed foreign to her, and ripped her heart to shreds. “I can’t see you anymore, Fiona.”

Like that, he could give her up as if she were salt bad for high blood pressure. Fiona’s temper simmered, so her pressure had skyrocketed, but she didn’t care if she dropped dead right there. It would serve him right. “But you told me that you were leaving her, Doug. You said you didn’t love her.” The words seemed familiar, and she had used them before, but this time she expected a different outcome. Doug loved her. She was sure of it.

His silence made the room spin around her even faster. Then, he finally spoke the words she dreaded. “I don’t know what to say,” he said. “We talked about it all night, and decided to give it a go for the sake of the kids. It’s over and that’s the way it has to be. Try to understand my position.”

She gasped. “And try to understand mine.”

“But you don’t have one, Fiona,” he said as if he had no heart or compassion. What happened to the months they spent planning their future? “I’m the one with the family,” he continued. “You didn’t have to hide this affair from anyone. You’re alone.”

His harsh tone cut through her and she stumbled over her response. Surely, he didn’t mean them. He loved her. “Don’t say that,” she begged with tears welling in her eyes. In a matter of seconds, they slipped down her face. “I’m not alone, Doug. I’m with you.” This seemed all too familiar since it had happened so many times before. Still, she clung to hope. Doug loved her. He loved her!

Begging never changed the outcome, yet she pleaded with the man before her, who slept beside her whenever he could, believing with all of the faith she could muster that it would this time. She had to do everything she could to save this relationship. She couldn’t function without it. “You love me, Doug, and you want me. I know you do.” It wasn’t pathetic if it proved to him just how much she loved and needed him, she reasoned. Men liked it when women needed them, right? She had to prove to him that she loved him more than anyone, and wanted to please only him.

“It doesn’t matter what I want,” he said. “I can’t let her divorce me. I worked too hard to give her half of my business.”

His words cold and unemotional continued to stab her. “Your business? That’s what’s important to you? If it’s the money, I can find it for you. I’ll get a second job or…”

“Stop!” he shouted interrupting her drama. “We’re caught, Fiona. It’s over. For God’s sake, deal with it!” Doug sighed. His face tightened as he clasped his hands tightly leaving his knuckles white. It looked as though he was going to deck her and for moment, she grew afraid. “Look, one of her friends knows who you are. She told my wife everything. My wife said she was going to find you and make you pay, but I think I talked her down. I think she will leave you alone, but we can’t even talk to each other or she might go off the deep end. I want to make sure you’re safe, Fiona. I’m risking a lot talking to you now.”

“How did this happen?” she asked feeling bewildered.

He let out a small laugh and raised his hands above his head in disgust. “Fiona, you’ve told too many people about us, and you knew you weren’t supposed to. I kept telling you to stop, but you didn’t. This is your fault.”

“But I love you, Doug,” she said, sounding like a wounded and pathetic child, and the vision of Megan’s face came to her, as it did when each of her breakups occurred. “And I know you love me, too. I won’t tell anyone else, I promise. We can work this out.”

“It’s too late to promise,” Doug replied. “You sabotaged this relationship, Fiona. You have no one to blame but yourself.” He began to walk towards her front door, and turned to say more. “Be careful for the next week or so,” he said rather bluntly. “Things should be fine once she calms down, but don’t call me. Not ever again.”

Fiona stiffened with fear. She had heard that before, a long time ago, and it all came back with brutal force.
“I don’t want to have to change my number,” Doug continued, not noticing her sheer terror. “I’ve had this one for five years. My customers have it, too and it’s such a pain to change and adjust to a new one.” He walked out without another word shattering her world and leaving her in tears.

A few hours passed and the tears stopped, but now, pacing the floor, she needed Jenny to talk her off the ledge. Finally, she heard the downstairs door open, and she ran to the top of the steps to call her friend’s name.
“Jenny,” she shouted. “Thank God you’re home!” Fiona watched Jenny walk by without even acknowledging her. “Jenny, did you hear me?” she shouted again.

Without looking up, Jenny opened her apartment door and said, “Not now, Fiona!” With that, Jenny slammed the door.

# # # # # #

The anger on Gilbert Crawley’s face said everything she needed to know when he walked out of the bathroom. “What are you doing going through my wallet?” he asked, opening it to make sure everything was inside. “Are you stealing from me?”

“I didn’t taking anything,” she said, feeling caught, and for the first time, a little guilty. “I wanted to look at the pictures. What are you doing with a picture of Megan Downey in your wallet? Do you know her? Is she your girlfriend?”

Checking his wallet once more, he seemed content that everything was in place. “It doesn’t look like you took anything,” he said. “I guess I should be grateful for that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she said, feeling a little uneasy. “What was I supposed to take?” Confused, Fiona felt dizzy and she attempted to take a deep breath to try to calm her nerves.

“The game is up I suppose,” he said in a softer tone, yet with anger still in his voice. “And I can’t say I’m upset about that. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, but I can’t do anything about that now.” He grinned. “I’m kind of glad it’s over and I don’t have to pretend anymore. I didn’t like this gig.”

Fiona shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean,’ she said, fidgeting.

Gilbert shrugged. “This was supposed to be a little payback for everything you’ve done over the years.” Gilbert shook his head. “I heard plenty about you through the years, and I was warned, but I didn’t expect you’d try to steal from me. That’s my fault for letting my guard down.” He said the words with a wicked grin on his face, as the room turned cold and his personality took a dive. The man who listened to her hopes and dreams for the future didn’t really exist and in his place stood a cold, shrewd man she did not recognize. For the first time in a long time, since the night her brother hit her hard across the face when he heard something about her on the streets, Fiona understood terror.

“What do you mean you heard about me?” she asked. Could it be that her reputation crossed city and county lines? “Is Megan your girlfriend?” she asked again, terrified of the response.

“Why? Does that matter to you?”

“Yes,” she said. “It would matter.”

He looked at her and said, “It didn’t matter before.”

Fiona said nothing.

“No, she’s not my girlfriend,” he continued. “She’s my little sister.”

Of all of the things Gilbert could say, this stunned her the most, stopping her in her tracks and slamming her to the ground. “Aren’t you going to ask how I know Megan?” she asked, still hoping for the coincidence.

“I know how you know her,” he said. “You ruined her life. Now you’ve ruined the plan. It was supposed to play you a bit more before you found out. I suppose I dragged it out too long.”

“Who told you about me?” She already knew the answer. “And what were you going to do?”

“A lot of people have told me what you’ve done, Fiona. You’re legendary,” he said mocking her. “ My sister Megan is one of them. You broke her heart, you know. And now I’ve failed her, too.” He paused for a moment, as if he were cursing at himself because he did not get the job done. “I was supposed to get you into bed, screw you, and then humiliate you, as you did to my sister. Maybe rough you up a little, but more mentally than physically. I’m a gentleman, after all.”

Her face fell and she laughed with nervous in trepidation. “You said your last name was Crawley.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but my mother married Megan’s dad after she divorced my father,” he said with an icy tone that pushed through her.

Fiona crossed her arms across her chest for warmth, trying to hide her shaking hands. “What happened between Megan and me was four years ago.”

He looked at her with a face full of hate, and she heard the advice of so many girlfriends who walked away. “What goes around comes around,” they had said. It had come around all right, and it hit her square in the face.

“It’s time you realized your actions have consequences,” he said. “She’s never recovered. Megan was a smart young girl with a bright future ahead of her, but you destroyed her. Did you hear that through the grapevine? My sister’s life is ruined. She never went to college because of you.”

“But it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Fiona pleaded. “It was a silly high school relationship.”

“Megan and Brandon have known each other all of their lives, and she loved him. Everyone had expected that they’d get married, even when they were children.”

“So why aren’t you after him then? He did this to her, not me. I didn’t even know her.” Fiona’s logic did not seem to work on Gilbert the way it had on Megan all those years ago. She also knew Brandon lived on campus in North Carolina. They had not spoken much since everything had gone down years before, but you would have to be oblivious in this town not to know that he received a full scholarship for football. The news had broadcast it all over town, and the mayor gave his family the key to the city, as if he’d done something great.

“Don’t worry about him,” he said. “You’re practice, that’s all, the way you were for every guy you slept with.”

His words stung, but she could not deny they were not true. “So, what was the plan Gilbert? How far were you going to take this?”

“It does not matter now. I couldn’t go through with it anyway, even though you are a low life piece of dirt, and you deserve it. You have a pathetic life in a pathetic little town where no one likes you, you embarrassed your family, and you have no hope for any future success because you are an uneducated slut. I couldn’t even stomach the possibility of going where so many guys have been before. It makes me sick to think about touching you. You’re diseased.”

He looked down upon her, making her feel every bit like the trash he called her.

Harsher words had never been spoken to her, at least not too her face. That is when she realized what she had created, and the walls crashed in around her. Scared, she rushed towards the door, but he stopped her by holding it shut.

“What makes you think I won’t call the police,” she snapped. “I’ll put you behind bars for a long time if you don’t let me go!”

“I haven’t done anything illegal,” he sneered. “Besides, who the hell would believe you? I didn’t force you to come back to my hotel room, did I? We have witnesses in the bar, I’m sure.”

As the tears fell down her face, she knew he was right. Her small town gave her a big name, and she thought that is what she wanted.

“No man will ever want you, Fiona, at least not for more than a few minutes. You’re doomed to a life of lonely solitude and you brought it all on yourself.”

Fiona watched Gilbert collect his belongings. Her nerves felt raw and she clenched her jaw backing away from him as far as she possibly could. He turned to her before he left the room and grinned.

“One more thing you should know, I’ve written and mailed a letter to your parents detailing everything you did,” he said coldly. “I think they should know what they raised, don’t you? They should find it pretty entertaining.”

He walked out of the room a split second before she fainted.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Eight

downloadJune 16, 2015Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

The Thursday afternoon sky resembled a sad, dull grey as storm clouds rolled in. April showers would soon arrive, wash away the bleak winter, and welcome the first blooms of spring. Yet, the forecast called for the possibility of a few inches of snow later tonight. Winter would not go easy this year.

Jenny had finished unpacking a shipment of six 19th century crystal vases she purchased from a distributor in Chicago. Putting one aside for Mother’s Day, which would make an easy gift with flowers from a street vendor, she placed the rest on the shelf behind the counter. Not only the least crowded area of the shop, it was also the safest since it was out of the customers’ reach. Once she finished the task, she picked up the telephone to update Mrs. Chadwick on the antique button. Jenny waited as the phone rang six times, and expected the answering machine. Instead, Mrs. Chadwick answered, sounding a little impatient and tense on the seventh ring.

“Hi, Mrs. Chadwick, it’s Jenny from Pine Street Antiques,” she said. “I have good news. I believe I tracked down a button for your gown. I found a vendor in Boston who is overnighting the piece so you can take a look. From the photo he emailed, it’s a perfect match.” She had tracked down three, but kept the information to herself, realizing Mrs. Chadwick may also be interested in the extra buttons, but the other two would be added to her collection. “It should arrive tomorrow morning, so I should be in touch with you by noon.” She poured it on a little thick and hated playing up to the Queen Bee of the DIH, but she did good work tracking down an impossible to find button, and wanted her just reward.

“I’ll expect a call from you then,” Mrs. Chadwick said, a bit too smug for Jenny’s taste. Sales work was a crazy profession when you lived by the mantra the customer is always right.

The afternoon had dragged on, but it was Thursday, which meant she would not have to cook tonight. Thursday was takeout night, a tradition from her childhood. She kept the tradition faithfully, but her tastes had changed through the years from pizza and fast food to Thai and Indian delicacies.

About an hour later, Jenny locked doors, the one to her shop, and the one leading to her apartment, and headed out into the cool night air. As usual, she would enter her apartment directly from the street entrance next door.

For a March night, the temperature felt right. Although the air did not smell of snow, it was brisker than the afternoon now that the sun began to set. Still, the light struggled to hold on a little longer these days. Jenny walked the few crowded blocks to Chen’s Chinese Takeout for a spring roll, and a quart of vegetarian wonton soup. Her thoughts wandered to Andrew and his cryptic email message, as they had for most of the week. “I thought you’d like to have dinner and discuss the next selection,” she dreamed he would say. “I value your opinion. We have a lot in common, don’t you think.” She would look into his eyes, and he would realize as if she had long ago that they were having a moment, and then he would kiss …

“Oh, excuse me,” she said after bumping into the man in front of her who stopped for a red light. Caught up in her daydreams, she was no longer aware of her surroundings.

The man turned around and she drank in the surprised look on his familiar face.

“Andrew,” she said, feeling a little shaken that she crashed into the very man she was conversing with in her mind. “I didn’t realize…”

He smiled. “I’ve had my fair share of pedestrian collisions,” he said. “I’m a careless walker, too, but no harm done. What are you doing on street at rush hour?”

“Running an errand,” she said, suddenly feeling shy. She could have said she planned to pick up dinner. That might have been a prompt for him to say he wanted to join her. They could eat in the dining room of the Chinese restaurant with the other couples who would meet there after work. Takeout to eat alone seemed awfully pathetic.

“I’m doing the same,” he said. “I found a shoe repair shop on the next block and I’m picking up a few pairs that I had fixed. Sometimes I wish we repaired more items like we used to, instead of disposing everything.” He smiled. “But look who I’m preaching to,” he added. “You and your specialty shop do exactly that, don’t you?”

She smiled. She hadn’t thought of it that way before, but she liked his analogy. “I suppose I do,” she said, feeling a little more at ease.

He looked handsome and academic in his brown tweed blazer with the suede elbow patches. Missing from the scenario, a pipe, which would complete the picture, but she knew he did not smoke. From what she knew, he was too health conscious for that, which also eliminated the possibility for Chinese food. Jeesh, even in her own mind, she rambled.

When the light turned green, they walked along in uncomfortable silence for a few seconds before she mustered up the courage to speak. “How are you enjoying the new book?” she asked. She though it to be a safe question and one that required a lengthy answer that would get her off the hook to create small talk. He would talk and she would listen. She preferred that.

“Haven’t started making discussion notes yet,” he said. “I’ve been caught up in grading papers, which is why I had to cancel on Tuesday.”

“It’s a busy time,” she said, nodding. Not everyone had the free time she did, after all. Most likely, he had an active social life, too. What would she talk about now? The fact she desired him and she thought they would make a great couple. That might make him run away fast.

“Besides, I know it pretty well since I wrote it.” He added with a grin.

She wondered if her cheeks turned red because she felt so embarrassed. “Of course you did,” she said. “Silly me.”

“Which reminds me I did email you, didn’t I?”

Ah, the conversation she wanted to avoid for now, yet she had to acknowledge it, and nodded her head. She wanted to savor the mystery a little longer before it played out. “You did, and I answered you a few days ago.” Apparently, he did not plan to wait by the computer for her response.

“Do you have some time now to chat? We could go into Starbucks on the corner here and grab a coffee or tea, if you’re not in a hurry.”

“I have time,” she said, although she wanted to say she did not. Somehow, the dream of spending time with him seemed safer than actually doing it. She wallowed in her apprehension, thinking about what a head case she had become. Still, admitting a dream or fantasy life was preferable to real events was the first step toward sanity.

Once inside Starbucks, he ordered two peppermint teas, and he paid for them, making her imagine this as their first date. Small talk ensued about the weather, nice for this time of year, and an early spring, they both looked forward to the colorful blooms. She learned he was a bit of a gardener, and once they had their teas, they seated themselves at the small table closest to the door, appropriate if he wanted to make a quick getaway.

“I value your opinion, you know,” he said, beginning the conversation like in her daydream and a feeling warm and comforting embraced her as if his words doubled as a hug. For a second, she thought maybe the moment she dreamed about arrived. “You have a knack for knowing what to focus on in each chapter and what’s important to discuss. I think you could do my job.”

She looked a little puzzled, but she tried to hide it. “You think I’d be a good history teacher?” she asked, realizing this direction is not where she expected this conversation to go.

He laughed. “Yes, you probably would, but I was talking about leading the book club.”

“Oh, that,” she said feeling foolish, and offering a small laugh to cover it up. She still held out for the big moment, the one that would make it all worth it. For the first time, he looked deep into her eyes and she jumped in, and imagined him peeling all of her prickly layers of protection to find the softness inside. She wanted to say he had beautiful eyes, but he needed a haircut because he looked a little scruffy when his side burns covered his ears. That is the way to a man’s heart, she thought. Insult him. Criticize him. She grew up knowing how painful both could be, and felt chastised for the mere thought.

“Would you be willing to fill in as lead for the meeting after next? Either that or we’ll have to cancel again since I don’t think else can handle the job.”

Panic set in for a moment as she tried to gather her thoughts. “You’re leaving the group?”

“Not permanently, but I will be away for a bit,” he said. “You see, I’m traveling to London for a conference and plan to take a little vacation after. Maybe head to Paris for a few days.”

Feeling flattered he thought she could handle it she nodded. She did not want to disappoint him. “I’d like to help you, so sure,” she said. I would rather go to London and Paris with you she wanted to add but did not have the nerve.

“Fantastic,” he said. “I didn’t want to cancel and put us behind schedule. You’d be helping me tremendously.”

She nodded. “I’m glad to help, but you know I’m not the world’s best public speaker,” she admitted. “I can give it a go, but Melissa might be a better choice. She is a high school history teacher, right?”

He smiled. “Are you questioning my decision?” he asked.

“No,” she said, taken aback. “I didn’t mean to…”

“I’m teasing you, Jenny,” he said, with a warm smile that showed off his tender side. She liked when he said her name. “I’m about to let you in on a little secret. I’d prefer it if you kept it to yourself, too, if you don’t mind.”


“Melissa is coming with me. We have been dating for the last few months, and it has become serious, but we thought it might be awkward to make it known to the group. It might change the dynamic, which is the last thing we want. I can’t be accused of playing favorites, now can I?”

As she felt his bittersweet words wash away any possibility for their romance, Jenny prayed that her face did not show the disappointment sweeping her body. Could he see that her shoulders sagged and her cheeks burned when he said those words? She hoped not. Jenny wanted to cry, but could not explain it if she did. Instead, she plastered on a smile and said, “That’s wonderful for you, congratulations.”

She tried to focus on her breathing as she listened to him go on, feeling her world continue to crash around her. How long did she have to sit here and pretend she was OK? Worse, could she hide it from him how she felt?

Back on the street again 20 minutes later, alone and heartbroken, she lumbered back to her apartment. She could not remember what happened in the last 15 minutes of that conversation, and she hoped and prayed she made it through it with a little dignity. Gone were her dreams of dating Andrew Gordon. Not only that, she had agreed to lead her book club in Andrew’s absence, which terrified her and crushed her heart into a million pieces.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Seven

OldTVJune 12, 2015 Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Fiona channeled all of the positive energy she could muster into the lottery ticket in her hand. With an impish smile, she imagined what life would be like if she won millions of dollars. The limitless online shopping she dreamed about would become a reality. She also considered how the situation would improve her relationship with Doug. Love may matter more than money, but having both made things easier. Doug wouldn’t worry about his business so much if it was flush with cash, and he could get out of the horrible marriage that held him back. His wife would surely walk away if a nice payoff became part of the divorce package, and then Fiona and Doug would be free to explore their future together with a mighty weight lifted off of their shoulders.

She placed the ticket on the refrigerator with a carrot-shaped magnet, right next to the magnet that wisely stated, “You have to pay attention to the small details in life if you wanted to succeed.” Fiona loved Jenny as if they were sisters, but sometimes she grew tired of Jenny incessantly shunning the worthwhile advice she offered. Fiona had few female influences in her life, even at work, so Jenny’s friendship was a necessity, but on more than one occasion she wanted to shake her good friend and make her face reality. Fiona hadn’t planned to take the ticket, and certainly did not steal it. She simply wanted to keep it safe in case her friend pulled off the biggest stroke of luck and won the damn thing. Maybe they could split the winnings once Jenny realized that she needed Fiona to look out for her. She deserved it, after all. Without saving the winning ticket, neither of them would receive the large payout.

How could anyone get through life without caring about the important things? Jenny did not have faith in the power of positive thinking, a necessary act to bring good things to your life, yet she still had a chance to win the lottery thanks to Fiona’s quick thinking, which saved the ticket from the trash bin. Still, her biggest flaw had to be a nonchalant attitude about finding Mr. Right. Jenny had not dated in what seemed like forever, and Fiona often wondered if she could still be a virgin. She wanted to ask on a few occasions, and even came close after a several glasses of wine, but she lost the nerve. Life would be cruel without the physical attractions being satisfied, without a man’s touch. People belonged paired off just as nature intended it, even if it was boy and boy, or girl and girl. She had no problem with that. Perhaps Jenny was gay! She doubted it, but it was a theory she hadn’t thought of before. Either way, Jenny might just as well lock herself away in a convent because she didn’t play by the rules of the world around her.

Attractive enough, Jenny had the right tools to get a man, although Fiona agreed with Jenny’s mother – a rare occurrence – that she did not enhance her best features, instead hiding behind a poorly chosen wardrobe. Still, plenty of couples seemed misplaced and made the best of it. Unattractive women still found men because it was the law of nature. Women held the power and the sexual energy that men craved. Men and women belonged together, and no matter what you looked like, you could find a partner if you wanted one. Fiona was convinced of that.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve picked out some things in this catalog that would look great on you,” she’d say on occasion, handing Jenny the latest Victoria’s Secret or Penney’s catalog. “They’re on sale, too.”

Jenny would smile politely and thank her. When asked about it again, she would say, “I don’t know if they’re right for me. Besides, I am not a mail order shopper. I prefer going to the store to buy my clothes. That way, I can see them in person and try them on.”

Fiona had difficulty believing that excuse. Jenny’s clothes did not fit her body the way they should if you tried something on before buying it. Shapeless and pathetically styled, her clothes hung on her as if she did not care in the least. Still, Fiona didn’t give up the fight. As the queen of catalog shopping, she received at least ten in the mail each week, and she persisted to pick out the proper clothes for her friend. Sometimes she believed it would be easier to find new friends who shared the same interests. Too bad a lot of other women were jealous of her because men found her desirable.

“It’s understandable why you don’t have any female friends, aside from my daughter, who you don’t consider competition,” Jenny’s mother once said to her. “Women don’t want to be around other women who prey on their men.”

The nerve of that woman, and her peering eyes that followed her everywhere before she divorced Jenny’s father and married a new and wealthy husband. Fiona often wondered how she pulled that off. That uptight prude of a woman must be wicked in bed or have blackmail photos to snag someone like him. Fiona could not help if men desired her. No wonder Jenny’s father kicked her mother to the curb.

Fiona would never forget Mr. Hobbs, who sat by her side during the most difficult days of her life. Jenny was lucky to have him. Her life may have turned out differently if she had the same love and consideration from her father. What will be, will be, she thought, trying to convince herself it didn’t matter. She had not seen her parents or her brothers in over 20 years, and didn’t even know if they were still alive. Most likely, she’d never see them again, so it was best to bury the memories deeper and forget she had a family at all.

Relaxing on the sofa with her phone by her side, she paged through the latest Coldwater Creek catalog. These clothes were conservative, yet somewhat fashionable. She could find Jenny something stylish among the pages. Like a lightning bolt, a realization struck her hard as she stared at the colorful southwest style blazer on page four. She had not thought of this before, but it may have been as plain as the lottery ticket on her refrigerator. Something from Jenny’s past could have affected her dramatically, and turned her away from men. What other reason could there be? It had to be something she did not want to reveal to anyone. No one shies away from the opposite sex without a good reason. If that was the case, they may have more in common that she previously thought.

# # # # # #

The sun had begun to set, turning the sky scarlet red. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. She didn’t know what it meant, but it had to be a good sign, and she smiled as she walked across town to meet her date. It had been a long time since she dressed up for a night out on the town, and the anticipation excited her. It had been a long time since she had any fun at all with everyone away at college and she deserved this.

Walking in to the empty nightclub – it was still early even by Harrisburg standards – she noticed Gilbert waiting for her at the bar nursing a beer. She smiled realizing how handsome he was, and how when the half-empty room filled in another hour or so, she would be the envy of every woman there. Fiona knew the bartender would not serve her alcohol; hers was a small town where everyone knew each other and their business. She ordered a ginger ale with two cherries and settled next to him.

“You look nice,” he said, complimenting her on the green dress she knew she wore well. She believed it to be classy and sexy, with the hemline six inches above her shapely knee. She had been told her legs were to die for. Still, she felt disappointed he could not come up with a better adjective to describe her. Nice was a bowl of soup your grandmother made for you, not the sexy number she wore just for him.

He shared a few details about his life while they ate, and she tried to seem amused. As a top sales representative, he earned an income well into the six-figure range, and it delighted her when compared to her own ginormous salary of $4.75 an hour. Nevertheless, they did not have to make it the entire basis of their conversation. Didn’t he want to know more about her? She had not accomplished much in life, but she was good at embellishing.

“How often do you come through town?” she asked, trying to steer the conversation in a new direction.

“A few times a month,” he said. She felt confident if she wanted it to, this blossoming relationship could go somewhere. Maybe this was not a one-time thing, after all, and after they finished their chicken Marsala, the hotel’s specialty, and only decent item on the menu, she accepted the invitation back to his room. “I have a bottle of wine chilling for us,” he told her.

Once they settled in and he opened the wine, she had the opportunity to talk about herself. She shared her dreams of becoming a lawyer one day hoping to impress him, and he seemed interested to hear more. About an hour later though, with a little buzz from the wine, she grew anxious, wondering why he had not attempted to put his arm around her or at the very least, hold her hand. When she had tried to snuggle in closer to him, she could smell his expensive aftershave, but he put the brakes on.

“Whoa, slow down,” he had said. “We have all night.”

He couldn’t have lost interest that fast! Moreover, he couldn’t be interested in her simply as a tour guide. She should play harder to get, she thought to herself as she sat alone waiting for him. A few minutes before, he had excused himself and headed for the bathroom. It seemed like an eternity had passed, and with the bad music playing courtesy of the easy listening channel on the hotel television for company, she grew bored.

Fiona stood. The firm and uncomfortable hotel sofa made her stiff, and she walked around the room to stretch her muscles. This hotel was kind of on the seedy side and she wondered if he thought the same. If he traveled all over he was likely used to those much more cosmopolitan than her tiny hamlet of Harrisburg. In this godforsaken place, the choices were few. A Holiday Inn and it was not one of the nicer ones, or a Motel 6 out by the turnpike entrance for truckers and one-night stands. She figured the furniture in the room to be at least 15 years old, since the place had not been upgraded since she had been around. On prom night, when she was with Kevin Forsythe, her best lover to date, she may have been in this room. She knew for certain, their room was in this wing. Kevin had asked her, and then begged her to sleep with his best friend after they were finished, but she refused. She was not a whore, after all. He had a lot of nerve to insinuate otherwise. It was the only time she felt used.

Fiona walked over to the worn dresser that had seen better days. The finish on top had cracked, making it appear ready for the dumpster, and she ran her hand over its rough surface almost getting a splinter. Gilbert’s brown leather wallet sat on top, and she felt compelled to peek. She would not steal his money or anything, but she had read in Vogue that the contents of a man’s wallet could reveal a lot about them. It looked pretty much like any man’s wallet, credit cards, health insurance stuff, receipts, and a couple twenty-dollar bills. Now onto the good stuff, she thought as she flipped through the pictures. No wife and kids, all good. Instead, the first photo was one of himself, rather odd she thought, followed by an older couple she assumed were his parents. The third picture inside the plastic cover looked familiar. It appeared to be a family shot, and as she looked closely at the young girl standing next to him, she gasped, flipped the wallet back onto the dresser, jerking back her hand. As her mysterious date came out of the bathroom, the look on his face made it clear they both had some explaining to do.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Six

boardroom4June 9, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five

Chapter Six

The Grand Society of the Daughters of Independence Hall met every other Tuesday morning at eleven o’clock. After the general meeting, the small congregation of 14 members exited the building to go about their day, and the executive board took its place in the majestic conference room overlooking Old City Philadelphia. The space displayed paintings of those who influenced and signed the Declaration of Independence, a small token to appease them since the original historic building was off limits. This still stuck in the craw of three of the four board members, and instead the board met in the adjacent Constitution Center. A wonderful building with state-of-the-art features and plenty of room, they complained it lacked the historic feel important to their purpose, and something this modern seemed out of place in Old City Philadelphia, where the smooth cobblestone streets and horse drawn carriages catered to its celebrated past.

The Daughters sponsored several projects a year, which granted deserving scholarships to area students, aided with genealogy research for those who could afford their expensive services, and assisted the community in general. Their latest campaign invited potential members to trace their roots back a few hundred years to see if they could join the exclusive club, all for the bargain price of $3,500. Few took the bait and fewer qualified, and some members suspected it worked out the way their leader liked it. The various fundraisers and yearly gala raised plenty of funding for their causes, which also helped the city preserve its history, although some complained their causes were becoming too shallow. Those members, Martha knew, had no right to question the decisions of someone with the experience and knowledge she possessed.

The DIH, neither a political organization, nor one to lobby Congress, did on the rare occasion intervene with local political issues, especially if the city’s colorful mayor made headlines for the wrong reasons. Keeping his activities out of the papers turned into full-time job. The mayor, a cousin of Elyse Walton, and a democrat no less, having changed parties because a republican could not be elected in Philadelphia, enjoyed the perks that came along with the office, and the DIH managed to hide a lot of his activities for the sake of the family name and its ties to the club. On occasion, there were major embarrassments that slipped through the cracks and ended up on the evening news and on the front page of local newspapers.

“I can assure you he’s nothing like the rest of the family,” Elyse said to Martha. “Common sense seems to be lacking in his branch of the family tree.”

“We all have our crosses to bear,” Martha responded as if she dismissed Elyse’s complaint.

The board consisted of four members, including Martha Chadwick, who acted as chair for the club over the past five years. Called the most elitist of the group by many people in the community, Martha thought it a compliment. Her ties led back to signer Edward Rutledge, and she felt proud, desiring to keep the society as true to its name. She shooed away the idea to open the DIH to a wider audience, to those with a direct lineage to anyone from the original 13 colonies to give it wider appeal, like its sister group the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. A competitive spirit existed between the two groups to do more for the community, and the DIH reigned supremely above the DAR in the challenge, an effort that pleased Martha, even though she acted as if she didn’t care.

“We could do more for the community if we opened it up to more people, Martha,” a member would coax now and then.

Martha wouldn’t budge. “We are not a national society,” she replied. “And we are more appreciated because of our exclusiveness. It does not mean a wide group of people cannot benefit from our charities. Many of our fundraisers are open to the public. They are not exclusive. But the inner workings of our organization will remain true to our name, and confidential to the few of us.” In addition, to the annoying Carrie Grant, she wanted to add, but kept the complaint to herself. “We will remain exclusive,” she said instead.

“It could be worse, after all,” Martha continued, her voice deep and sullen because frankly she was tired of defending her position. “It’s not like we operate like the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Members are only welcomed in by invitation only, and then you have to trace your ancestry back to a family member who has held a high office at the colonial level.” She grimaced for a moment, remembering when she had been rudely asked to leave the Colonial Dames because they accused her of stealing from their checking account, something these women before her didn’t know, and never would. It was a misunderstanding, and thankfully they didn’t press charges since she agreed to pay the money back immediately. Still, she hated the Colonial Dames. That is when she set her sights on the DIH, a well-planned moved where she advanced to the top in record time. She set out to show the Colonial Dames what a mistake they had made, and she succeeded. “We are the Daughters of the Hall, and will remain open to those who share the same honor that we do.”

Soon after, Martha would have to eat those words and let Sukie Daltry join the organization, a task she hated, but one that offered no choice. Mrs. Daltry, much younger than the rest of the members, happened to be the new trophy wife of Peter Daltry who presided over the law firm where Martha’s husband held a senior partnership. The Daltry family had the power, money, and fame to get what they wanted. They ran the city of Philadelphia, but their roots to the states were less than 100 years old, and their wealth even younger. As Peter’s third wife, Sukie remained clueless about the family’s lineage. Martha suspected Sukie’s people were no better than carnies or gypsies, and had the gall to say so – behind her back of course – at a DIH luncheon. Pressure from her husband and from some of the other members of the society who enjoyed Sukie’s colorful side, and who wanted the club opened to younger people, made her cave. Sukie liked the party scene a little too much, and her husband encouraged her membership to downplay her past and give her credibility in the community. Everyone knew she danced at a gentlemen’s club on Delaware Avenue where they first met, and that was a lot to ask society to overlook. Now, Martha had to figure out a way to give the little tart some form of decorum.

Elyse Walton, Martha’s co-chair and equally snobbish cohort, had ties on her mother’s side to signer John Morton. Elyse’s marriage failed years ago, yet she remained with her husband playing the part of a happy couple. She tried to keep his preference to younger companions under wraps, which grew more difficult each day. Making things worse Elyse’s two daughters, Lauren and Brittany, who were once the pride of her existence began to cause their own chaos, following their father’s example. The money in the family belonged to her, and not her husband, who held a position at the Federal Reserve Bank in the city, an appointment her father paid for after he retired. She should divorce him, but did not want to put up with the scandal that may follow. Ladies of society did not divorce, her mother lectured when she approached her about the idea. Like their husbands, they took on lovers discretely, and put up a good front in public. It is what her mother did before her, and it is what she planned to do, too, if she wanted to stay in the will. It was her own doing anyway, her mother assured, since she married outside of her class.

Charlotte Ampstead, treasurer and party planner extraordinaire, and the most grounded of the committee had a stellar reputation throughout the wider community due to her private philanthropic generosity. Charlotte approached life differently than her co-members. Brought up as Philadelphia Royalty in the same manner as the Kelly’s, the family of Princess Grace of Monaco, the newly single Charlotte divorced her husband of 15 years. They had no children, something she noted as a blessing now, and Charlotte enjoyed her single status and had no intentions of remarrying. At 42, she also enjoyed the benefits of being the youngest board member, and had fresh ideas to match her age and to change the club for the better. Her father had left her a fortune granting her the ability to live a lavish existence for the rest of her life and stand on her own no matter how unpopular her ideas seemed to the elder board members. They knew they could not ask her to step down. Charlotte had ties to two of the more famous signers, both John and Samuel Adams, cousins and a former president and a beer maker respectively, a fact that stung most of the jealous woman on the board. Aware of the power she held, Charlotte rarely took advantage, but if she had to she could put up a strong fight and use it.

Georgia McKean held the board position of secretary elect. The lineage came from her husband’s side of the family, making Georgia the sole member to have the last name as her relative, signer Thomas McKean. As the oldest member of the group at 76, Georgia joined the board three months before, after her husband’s passing. He had been the last male McKean, and his name would disappear since they had three daughters who changed their names upon marriage. Georgia needed to fill her days with something substantial, and the DIH board fit her schedule. At times, Georgia had a heart of gold stemming from her pauper days, but she married young and rich, adapting easily to the lifestyle.

Martha Chadwick sat at the head chair in the upper corner of the meeting table waiting for the other women to join her, again taking time to read this week’s column from the newspaper. The column she zeroed in on contained its usual banter about her beloved DIH, but followed with an op-ed piece focusing on the writer’s ridiculous opinion, as if she dared to have one.

“In times of economic hardship, and with many charities suffering, why would one society turn people away who want to help? You know them, dear readers, as the exclusive group that meets regularly to determine the fate of the less fortunate in our fair city.

We all know the city is struggling with finances, and charitable organizations require more these days since people are giving less, and more people depend upon those charities. Can anyone explain why repainting the Betsy Ross House is more important than feeding hungry families? The house of our famous flag maker, painted just three years ago, can hold out for another year making that money available for needs that are more crucial. We should take a closer look at who is running the DIH these days, and question her decisions.

The lesson here is if you’re looking to give back to the community, and spend your time on worthwhile projects that make a difference, steer clear of the Daughters of Independence Hall, who only want your help if your worthy by bloodline. Somehow, I believe our fore fathers would dispel that logic. Instead, call Philabundance, the local food pantry in South Philadelphia that welcomes and appreciates help. Busy now with the unemployment situation in an upheaval, they welcome volunteers without a blood test to prove your value. It may be difficult to believe this obsolete rule is still in place, when it suits the ladies who lunch, that is. Here is the real scoop:

When socialites find their names in the paper for something they do not want known, the claws come out. We will not name names, but it is not John Hancock’s moniker shining a spotlight on the newest DIH member. It is something a bit more obvious than that. Nevertheless, is there trouble in paradise already? Seems the newest member did not receive the handbook on how to dress as a proper member. Our new representative wore a revealing number to feed needy families at Christ Church last month. You might say the needy also received an eyeful that day.

Still, this writer believes those tears in her eyes when DIH’s head honcho confronted her about the attire were of the crocodile variety. What did Cary Grant say to a crying Ingrid Bergman in Notorious? “Dry your eyes baby, it’s out of character.”

Martha exhaled after reading the column for the fourth time. As usual, her instincts were dead on; letting Sukie join the DIH proved to be a costly error. She could not believe she had the gall to wear that horrid dress to a church hall. The right move would be to take Sukie’s membership away, but her husband would fight her on it, as would his insipid boss who had the nerve to marry her in the first place. She would have to find some use for the little tramp and keep her in the background. Perhaps they could throw a traditional British tarts and vicars’ party. Sukie had the proper wardrobe for the entire committee. Martha smiled at the thought.

Relaxed rules were for the worthy, and not for a common tramp with a torrid past who did not understand the basics of proper etiquette. She was thankful the other members of the DIH let in under the relaxed guidelines, those without direct ties, appreciated their good fortune. Other than Sukie, there were three in the past year. These well-deserved women may have come from new money, yet their clean names and scandal free pasts would not harm the club’s reputation. For God’s sake, this was not a bordello.

As the rest of the board members took their seats, Martha called the meeting to order.

“The invitation has been sent to the paper,” Georgia informed the rest of the women sitting around the boardroom table. “The plan has been set in motion.”

Martha shook her head and smiled. “It’s a good thing,” she said, sitting at the top of the boardroom as if she was a queen on her throne, and the rest of the women agreed.

“Remind me why we are doing this again?” Charlotte asked, puzzled.

While the look of disgust registered on the faces of the other women, as if on cue from Martha, Elyse took the opportunity to answer. “Knowledge is power, my dear,” she said. “Once the identity of Carrie Grant is known, we’ll know who we are dealing with. And we can find out what the journalist wants.”

Charlotte smiled. “You can’t believe she’s a determent to this society,” she said. “Maybe the last piece was less than flattering, but she’s right, isn’t she? Painting a historic landmark is not as important as helping the community in times of crisis. Besides, she normally brags about what we do here, Elyse. She has brought a lot of interest our way, and we should be grateful. It has helped us raise a lot of awareness for the work we do, especially for that high tea social we held for Women in Transition. It would have been a disaster if she hadn’t given it press.”

Elyse nodded. “Some of what you said is true, Charlotte, but we should keep friends close and our enemies closer,” she said. “It would behoove us to learn how this journalist is coming by some private information.”

“Is that why you think this journalist is our enemy?” Charlotte asked. “Because she wrote about information not available to the public? That’s simply a journalist doing their job. I wouldn’t think too much of it.”

“How do you know the journalist is a she, Charlotte?” Elyse asked with her voice filled with spite.

Charlotte shrugged. “I don’t, Elyse. I am assuming Carrie is a woman by the way she spells her name. Are you insinuating something else? Like I’m the mole?”

“I don’t know, Charlotte. Am I?”

“Ladies, please. This is beneath you,” Georgia said, as Martha sat back and watched the action with a smug grin on her face. She did not care for trouble among the ranks of her board, but in this situation, it would not be a detriment. “We’re all a little on edge because this writer has called us out here. That is why it is important to know who she is. And no, Charlotte, none of us think it’s you.”

Elyse shrugged. “I apologize, Charlotte. I wasn’t accusing you of doing anything wrong.”

Perched like a vulture, yet enjoying the banter between the women, Martha pounded her fist on the meeting room table. The act, although a bit dramatic, started her minions and dispensed the chatter as they looked towards their reigning queen with surprised looks on their faces, exactly how she wished. “I am certain someone is feeding information to the writer. They may not be I the room,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean she isn’t one of us.”

“Do you think the leak is a member?” Elyse questioned.

“I do,” Martha said, nodding her head.

“But members aren’t privy to all of the confidential matters, Martha,” Georgia chimed in.

“In a perfect world, that is true,” Martha said, “but we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? Now are there any ideas about how we can find out who this traitor is?”

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Five

downloadJune 5, 2015 Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Jenny re-opened the shop a few minutes before two o’clock, after what she expected to be a brief lunch with Fiona. Conversations with her tenant turned friend left her feeling spent, and she carried a steaming mug of strong chai tea downstairs for an extra caffeine boost to get through the afternoon.

She glanced out the window and took a deep breath, hoping for an adrenalin rush to get her started again. Outside, people walked the streets, barely taking time to look at the spring window display she had created. Instead, they trudged along to their destination without a glance. People did not notice what they saw every day, the very reason she made it a point to change her window display often. Yet, the downtown foot traffic had idiosyncrasies. People took to the streets with a purpose when they had to walk from one place to another during the workday. She could understand that when the weather did not cooperate, but today the sun warmed the streets, not enough to call it a spring day, but the temperature teased it would soon arrive.

Aside from folks in the neighborhood stopping in for lottery tickets and Mrs. Chadwick’s morning visit, there had not been a lot of business activity in the past few weeks. Closing for lunch was not an issue on any given day since she had a sign on the door that instructed customers to ring the bell during the lunch hour if they needed assistance. It also rang in her apartment, and she could walk downstairs to assist a customer within seconds. Quieter times at the store troubled her, but she had several jobs in the works for the DIH women, and expected a strong income flowing in for the next several months because of it.

She inhaled the rich aroma of the pungent tea, and could feel the warmth of the ceramic mug penetrate her skin as she walked to the small office in the back. Nothing more than a decent sized closet when the butcher shop made its home here, Jenny took advantage of the space and turned it into an office. The back stockroom felt crowded with boxes and other supplies, but a closed-door kept customers’ eyes from observing her cluttered secrets. In the file cabinets, she kept her business records as her father had before. She also squeezed in a small corner desk to hold her computer that she used during working hours, with an even smaller chair that looked appropriate for a first grader. Still, she made it work. For most of her personal needs and her column, she used the laptop upstairs in her second bedroom. The store computer contained the shop’s records, and she sat down with her tea hoping to locate the seller of Mrs. Chadwick’s dress. The woman may have been vague with her responses when she asked for the name, but Jenny tracked down information with ease and found what she searched for most of the time.

First, she logged in to check email. Both her personal and business accounts shared the same address. The message from Andrew Gordon stood out instantly among the spam that promised her lucrative work from home opportunities and great rates to refinance her home. She ran the cursor over the unopened email without a subject she and gave herself permission to wish for more than book club news. After several delicious seconds, she clicked through, and her heart leapt for a moment when she noticed that the message contained her name alone, and not others in the club. A personal message for her waited below, and the possibilities thrilled her. Once she could not stand the tension any longer, she scrolled down to read the mysterious message.

“Jenny, would you mind coming about a half hour earlier to our next meeting? I have something I want to ask you.”

She reread the message again and then again and again. Why did the message have to be so vague? What could he want to ask her that he could not write in the email, and what would take 30 minutes to discuss? While she pondered the possibilities with both positive and negative thoughts swimming around her head, and without much thought, she wrote in the reply area, “I’ll be there. See you then.” Once she sent it off, she wanted to change what she had written. She could have said it better, friendlier. Sexier, she heard her mother’s voice say, and this time she would have been right. She could have said, “I would love to,” or even “Yes, that sounds nice”, anything to show interest in what he had to say. However, like her name, her life, and her lunch hour, she stuck to tradition and kept it plain. For God’s sake, she thought, I should have been born Amish.

Her mother and Fiona often told her that she acted aloof when men were around, shutoff to any possibilities that might arise, and that is why they did not pursue her. After all, men needed a signal of interest before they pounced. It is better for their fragile egos, they explained. They rarely agreed on anything, so she had to believe the advice held some validity, even though it didn’t seem right. She had seen plenty of women bothered by men, who gave them no sense of interest at all. Her mother told her that beautiful women did not have to try as hard as she would have to. Another harsh criticism. Another bitter pill to swallow.

She could email Andrew again, and send a friendlier, more suggestive note, but that might come across too forward or worse, too needy. She promised herself to make eye contact when they did speak in person, and smile a lot to make up for her obvious blunder.

Thankful for the temporary distraction, she picked up the ringing phone expecting to speak with one of the distributors regarding the button. Instead, her editor’s voice took her by surprise. Bill Hower had run the “Old City Weekly” for the past three years. Chatting by phone seemed foreign since they rarely did that, and she had not missed a deadline, so what did he want.

“You’re not going to believe this, Jenny,” he said. “You had an interesting fax delivered here today.”

For a column that appeared in a neighborhood newspaper twice a month, at times it generated more buzz than she could handle. Still, she felt more fearful than curious when she asked, “Who is it from?” Keeping with tradition, her gut instinct swung toward the negative, and she believed she had done something wrong.

“The DIH,” he said fueling the fire, and Jenny’s stomach twisted in a knot. They were going to sue her, or send her a cease order demanding that she stop writing about them. They could not get her on slander charges, though. Her words conveyed the truth. Besides, she avoided names, although she did insinuate plenty. Maybe they were demanding Bill to reveal the source, and she wondered if he could keep their secret, even if threatened with jail time.

Coming back earth, she realized her little column didn’t warrant such drama. Only in her mind did that world exist. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “They want me to stop writing the column.” She said it aloud because she figured it to be the most minor of all of possibilities running through her head that ran the gamut from a hefty fine for impersonating a real journalist to a public flogging in Franklin Square.

“Why would they ask you to do that?” Bill laughed, and his tone teased her. “You’re a terrific advertisement for them and they know it. They might not like what you say all of the time, but you’ve done the impossible.”

Jenny unclenched her fist and relaxed. “What’s that?”

“You’ve made the untouchable snobs in this city interesting. That takes a lot of talent, you know. And they see it too, now that they’ve embraced your column.”

“What do you mean embraced?” she asked feeling a little more hopeful. “Did they say they liked it?”

“Not in so many words, but they did invite you, or should I say Carrie Grant, to become an honorary member of the Daughters of the Hall.”

What! Did she hear him right? They did not want to punish her in some humiliating way for all she had written, and they wanted to make her a member of the DIH? Why did that make her feel anxious? Then she understood. She could not accept the invitation no matter how much she wanted to. “Wow,” she said brushing her arm with the palm of her hand, another nervous habit she gravitated to when feeling awkward. “Too bad I’ll have to decline.”

“What are you talking about, Jenny?” Bill asked. His tone, surprising and sharp, startled her. “Why would you do that?”

“Because it would destroy my business.”

“Ah, Jenny, think a little outside the box on this one,” Bill said. “If we play our cards right, we both can build a lot of promotional mystery around this. We could tease our readers Carrie will come forward at the DIH annual gala in May. Our ad dollars could double for the next few months, and you may be able to save a failing paper. It is time to come out, Jenny. You may not get another opportunity to do it on a grand scale like this.”

“It would be an awful big chance to take with my livelihood,” Jenny said, feeling weak in the knees.

Bill laughed. “Are you kidding me? This could be the most exciting thing that happened to the paper in years, and it might draw more customers to your shop. Did you ever think of that? I thought this is what you wanted. You were pretty devastated when they turned you down last year.”

How did he know that? She thought she hid her disappointment rather well. “I’d like to think I got in on my own merits, and not because they are curious who I am. Besides, once they find out it’s me, I’m sure they will retract the offer.” As a businessperson, Bill had to sell ad space to keep the paper going, and she understood his point of view. Nevertheless, this is not what she wanted.

“That’s not likely, Jenny,” he said. “It would be devastating to their reputation. Mull it over for a few days and we’ll revisit it again next week. By then,” he added, “maybe you’ll come to your senses.”

“Hey, what you said about the paper,” Jenny said. “Is it true? Is it in trouble?”

“We’re OK,” Bill said. “I’m sorry for my dramatics. We are not in any more trouble than any other rag in the city. We are feeling the pinch in print advertising dollars, but at least the online ads are strong. I want this for you, Jenny. I won’t lie, I want it for the paper, too.”

Jenny hung up feeling shaken, as if she had appeared naked in front of the entire city. Bill sounded sincere, and she wanted the paper to succeed. Together, they managed to keep the column in the spotlight and remain quiet about its author’s identity. As the mystery grew, they did not want to risk appearing together. Bill told her not even his small staff knew the true identity of Carrie Grant.

It had been an adventurous afternoon. First, she received the cryptic message from Andrew that set her nerves aflutter and now an invitation to join the DIH shook her core. The universe is sending me a message, she thought, poking a little fun at Fiona and her theories. Nothing is an accident, Fiona would likely say. It looked like she picked the right day to defy tradition and take a later lunch. If all things were connected as Fiona believed, what lunacy had that one decision set in motion?

She wanted to believe she could help the paper by revealing herself as Carrie Grant, yet the thought of losing all of her respected customers, or even losing her part-time writing gig frightened her and it did not seem like a chance worth taking. Jenny worked hard to open the shop, against the advice of others who told her she would not succeed for a variety of reasons. She forged ahead anyway, out of character for someone ruled by people’s opinion, and began turning a profit in her second year, all due to the wealthy center city women who could turn a cold shoulder once Carrie Grant’s identity revealed itself the night of the gala. It was much easier to deal with them behind a secret identity, although that didn’t say much about her strength of character.

Pushing this crazy nonsense aside, she turned her mind back to the tasks she had to complete. She had a button to find for Mrs. Chadwick, and an antique curio cabinet to track down that had not yet arrived at Mrs. Walton’s home this morning. It almost slipped her mind since she fielded the call right before Mrs. Chadwick came in. Her day took a strange and busy turn at that point. She decided to start with the cabinet, since it would not require more than a phone call. She picked up the receiver and dialed the number of the trucking company. After she had the appropriate information, the trucking company had delivered the cabinet after all, and had a delivery receipt signed by Mrs. Walton, another member of the DIH, ten minutes after she called to complain, she dialed her customer’s number to make sure everything arrived as expected.

“Yes, it arrived,” Mrs. Walton, said. “I didn’t care for the men who delivered it, but the piece is stunning.”

“I’m glad you like it, Mrs. Walton,” Jenny said, thinking her commission check would soon be on its way. She wished Mrs. Walton had let her know the cabinet arrived, but it did not surprise her. Mrs. Walton had to find some fault in each transaction, no matter how minuscule. “Let me know if I can do anything else,” she said.

“You could report those men to their supervisor,” she said. “I think one of them was drunk. And the other had the nerve to ask to use the bathroom.”

“The trucking company is not one of the vendors I use, and now I won’t with what you just told me,” Jenny said. “If you recall, the seller made the shipping arrangements. I made a few suggestions, but they took care of the rest.”

“I don’t have the time to track down their supervisor. Isn’t it your job?”

Taken back by the remark, Jenny shrugged, although she should have been used to it. This circle of women felt entitled to do or speak as they wished, without any regard for feelings or consequences. She ended the call insinuating she would contact the trucking company to make the complaint, but she knew it would go no further than that. Mrs. Walton had seen the piece on a pawn shop reality program, and called Jenny to track down the owner and make an offer, which she did and she made a fine commission. However, in those types of sales, as the third party she had little to say about the processing.

She crossed the task off her to do list, realizing it would be useless to call the trucking company, and did a google search on Boston distributors who specialize in colonial clothing. Just as she hit enter, the chimes in the front signaled an opening door. A quick walk to the front revealed her customer was Mr. Hiller again, and this time he had his two Scotties by his side.

“Is everything OK with the teapot, Mr. Hiller?” she asked, but her eyes focused on the dogs looking fresh groomed. “You both look mighty spiffy,” she added, bending down to pet them.

“Everything is great, Jenny,” he said. “I picked up the boys from their day spa and we’re out for a walk. It is a fine day for March. I thought I would stop in and buy a few more lottery tickets. Five in all, and this time we’ll let the machine pick the numbers. It’s best to leave some things to chance.”

Jenny smiled, knowing the last part of his comment was directed at her, and wishing she could have the faith Mr. Hiller had, or even Fiona, no matter how misplaced. “Wow,” Jenny said teasing him, “you’re trying to improve your odds to win, I see.” She ran the numbers and took $10 from Mr. Hiller. “I guess I don’t understand the appeal of the lottery.”

“It’s all about taking a chance,” he said. “Sometimes you have to shake things up because you don’t want life to become too predictable.”

She smiled. “I suppose I should listen to these pearls of wisdom you’re sharing.”

He nodded. “I’m not a clever chap, am I? You see right through me, my dear.”

Jenny shrugged. “You are clever and wise, Mr. Hiller. I do need to keep more of an open mind.”

“And also confront your fear on occasion,” he said. “It’s good for you. Did I ever tell you the story about my wife and her skydiving experience? Petrified of heights, yet she still had the desire to jump from an airplane. She decided to take a chance on her 50th birthday, and go for it. I know it took a lot of courage for her to follow through, and she told me she wanted to chicken out, but decided not to let this get the best of her anymore.”

“So, she did it,” Jenny asked. “She jumped?”

“She did,” he nodded. “She also said she never wanted to do it again. Nevertheless, she faced her fear. She enjoyed that part.”

Jenny smiled. The universe was definitely trying to send her a message.


Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Four

faceless-man-in-suitJune 2, 2015Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Fiona Donnelly committed her first act of larceny in fifth grade. The long pay line at the local Rite Aid provided an opportunity to slip the Hershey bar with almonds into her coat pocket, while she waited to pay for the Coke. She did not have the money to buy both, and upon completing the task, she grinned. Her success left her feeling high like never before. She took what she wanted and had gotten away with it.

That act set her life of crime in motion, and soon she graduated to popping a lipstick or a bottle of nail polish in to her bag or pocket when she wanted something she could not afford. That kept her satisfied for a few years, and by ninth grade, she learned something even more startling. She could steal people, too. Fiona took immense satisfaction snatching her first boyfriend from his unsuspecting girlfriend, and it gave her a thrill like no lipstick or candy bar ever could.

Brendan McHale, a junior and the star of the football team belonged to Megan Downey, also a junior and head cheerleader. Everyone knew them as the golden couple until Fiona lured him away with little effort. Curious about sex any way, and with a desire to get the whole virginity thing out of the way, she did the deed with Brendan behind the bleachers on the football field after a Friday night game. A first for both of them, it was awkward and clumsy, but Fiona knew the lily white Megan wouldn’t consider it, and she believed the fact that she did made her special. She felt strong and desirable, using what the Good Lord gave her to please a boy, and she loved that feeling.

“You’re nothing but a whore!” a sobbing Megan shouted to her in front of her locker the following Monday. “How could you do this to me?” Upper class men rarely spoke to freshmen, and Fiona held the upper hand in the conversation. Apparently, word traveled through the high school halls about the secret tryst behind the bleachers, and she was kind of happy about it.

Fiona shrugged at Megan’s accusation. “I didn’t do anything to you,” she said standing tall, towering over the petite cheerleader. “I don’t even know you.” She enjoyed the power.

“You stole him from me!” Megan shot back. “You are a thief!”

Calm and rational, Fiona did not flinch. She looked at Megan with a cocky grin and said, “He is the one you should be mad at, don’t you think? You should consider that before you blame me for something he did to you.”

Fiona loved the new world where she had power and attention. Her four years of high school flew by with her standing as the most popular date ever to grace the halls of Wyomissing High. She had lost the girlfriends she had made along the way because they said they did not trust her, an absurd rationalization really, but she learned to live with it. It stung a bit four years later, when most kids went off to college, leaving Fiona behind. Her family could not afford to send her away, and she learned a little too late about scholarships and grants, but she hoped to begin Penn State the following September. She wanted to be a lawyer one day, a career that paid well for someone who could twist the truth and put up a mean argument to get what they wanted. Until then, she would work in the same Rite Aid she used as her personal accessory closet for the past six years. Working behind the pharmaceutical counter on the weekends and behind the cash register up front three days a week, made it easier to take what she needed.

As she walked up the stairs after a pleasant lunch with Jenny, checking her phone for missed calls for the hundredth time that day and wishing it to ring, she remembered those high school events. Her mood felt shaky because of the allegations against Doug, and the months she spent getting close to him, molding him into a perfect mate. She hoped they were not true, but with the slightest bit of doubt, she feared what would follow. It happened whenever uncertainty popped into her life, and no matter how hard she tried, she’d remember that fateful night that made her flee her hometown and scurry to Philadelphia. Then she would remember the man at the root of it all, and how much she despised him.

The day she met Gilbert Crawley, she worked the cash register. He looked innocent enough, standing in line to pay for a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bag of cheese doodles, which he explained he would eat while he watched television alone in his room at the Holiday Inn. At first she thought he offered too much information, but then she realized he was trying to impress her.

“I’m here on business for a few days,” he had said. “And have to stay through the weekend.”

Fiona took in the six foot, four inch beast of a man in front of her feeling thankful that there were no customers left in her line. She did not get to see many young men in suits – denim and work boots clothed most of the men in her sleepy town – and the expensive navy blue number he wore worked well on his athletic body. His jet-black hair moussed to perfection, and crisp blue eyes were the cherry on top of a delicious sundae.

“My name is Gilbert,” he said extending his hand. “Gilbert Crawley.”

She looked at him feeling intrigued, but playing aloof. “We may not live in New York City, Mr. Crawley, but there’s plenty to do around here for entertainment,” she said as she shook his hand like a business acquaintance.

He smiled, flashing straight white teeth, making her awkward about her bottom snaggle tooth in front that curved over the other one in front.

“I wouldn’t mind having a tour guide,” he said. “Would you like to join me for lunch or dinner tomorrow and show me around?”

Oh, yes he had piqued her interest. It had been too long since someone had paid any attention to her, making her fear that those who knew her spoke the truth. She was too promiscuous for her own good. “I don’t even know you, Mr. Crawley. Why would I do that?” She spoke slow and deliberate to tease him and to extend the game they were playing.

“Call me Gilbert, please,” he said. “That way it will be as if you do know me, Fiona.”

Taken back for a moment, she wondered how he knew her name, but then realized she wore a name tag on her blue cashier’s vest. “All right, Gilbert. However, it doesn’t change the facts. What if you’re a serial killer or nerd or something?”

He laughed. “I’m neither, I assure you. I’m a guy looking for a little pleasant company while he’s in town.”

Fiona figured him to be about 25, and wondered why he would express interest in a small town girl who had just turned 19. He had the freedom to pick someone closer to his age in one of the local bars or the nightclub in the hotel. However, he wanted her, and that usually worked. She smiled. “I suppose it wouldn’t be too terrible,” she said. “I work tomorrow afternoon, but I could show you the hot spots on Sunday.”

He smiled and nodded. “Are you free for dinner tomorrow night? It’s cruel to make me wait until then to see you.”

Bold, smooth and full of himself described his behavior that day, and it made her shudder to realize how he thrilled her then, and worse, that she agreed to meet for dinner the next evening.