July 10, 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, Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen
Sunday morning brunch. The dreaded event of the week, and the one she hated more than the smell of overcooked broccoli permeating through her apartment. Her mother’s cardinal rule assured that Jenny wouldn’t be bothered with family matters if she agreed to come to Sunday brunch.
Jenny walked the blocks sure-footed, yet in no hurry to get there. The day felt cool at 47 degrees, but the sun warmed her as she walked the blocks to the townhouse in the exclusive Fairmount section of the city. Her mother shared the home with her new husband, Henry, and his intolerable daughters, the “Barbie” twins, Emma and Sarah. She could take a taxi, but the walk always calmed her before the main event.
Emma and Sarah were younger than Jenny by 14 years, and at 25 were planning their elaborate weddings to two men who worked in their father’s investment firm. How convenient. Jenny wondered if Henry found them for his daughters, and made them part of their package employment deal, or if it was a real romance. The thought confounded her, but she knew it thrilled her mother, who after years of waiting had the opportunity to plan a wedding since the girls’ mother had left for Europe nearly 10 years ago and never bothered to return.
The minimal traffic on the streets at this early Sunday hour had been enough to make the walk interesting. She passed a few women who were walking home, still dressed from the night before, commonly referred to as the walk of shame, Fiona told her. These women did not make eye contact with the other passersby, walking with their heads down, though she could still spot the smudges of last night’s eye makeup on their faces. She felt sorry for these women, but also a little envious of them too. Their predicaments were unusual, and they were tossed aside this morning like garbage from last night’s feast, and likely wouldn’t hear anything from the men they’d spent the night with, but they had the possibility of something special on the horizon. Now in the day’s harsher light, they looked lonelier than ever.
She also came upon your garden-variety dog walkers complete with fancy sneakers and Starbucks cardboard coffee cups in their hands. They strolled, stopping to take a sip if their dogs stopped to sniff something along the way. She wanted a dog as a child, but her allergic mother prevented that. When she came home from college and moved back in with her father, they had considered getting one, but both agreed that it was not fair to subject a dog to apartment living, and one that would keep him or her alone for most of the day.
After almost getting knocked over by a young man on a bicycle, she took and deep breath and reached her destination – all too fast for her liking. Glancing at her watch, she realized she still had 15 minutes and planned to take advantage of every precious second of it before she entered through the gates of hell. It wasn’t to be; as if her mother had a sixth sense, she knocked on the front window and gestured for her to come in. So much for a little solitude before the worst part of her week, she thought, and she felt guilty that she thought that way. She loved her mother, but she was difficult. Still, Jenny knew she would have to accept the criticism if she wanted a relationship with her.
Her mother opened the door with her usual wide smile. “Come in, it’s chilly out here.”
“No, it’s beautiful,” Jenny, said, and the conversation and its opposition had begun.
“Did you walk?” her mother asked.
Jenny nodded. “I thought I could use a little more exercise. I missed a couple of sessions at the gym this week.” She felt bad for adding the part about the gym. She never followed such rules in life, and barely got any exercise at all that involved gym or elliptical equipment, much to the chagrin of her mother.
“The more routine it becomes the easier it is,” her mother said, and Jenny realized she had no clue about sarcasm. She looked around the empty room.
As if on cue, her mother picked up the scent of a question. “Henry and the gang are at church and after they’ll meet with the reverend that will perform the ceremony.”
Jenny shrugged. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t go with them, mom. This is your wedding too after all. You could have called me and cancelled. I would have understood.”
Her mother smiled. “No reason. They will be home in time for brunch. We’re going to start about 45 minutes later today.”
“That would have been nice to know. I could have used the extra time myself.”
“Nonsense,” she said, as if she believed that Jenny always had too much free time on her hands.. “I will give us a chance to catch up. Let me get you a cup of tea and we’ll chat.”
Jenny situated herself on the fine floral sofa and watched her mother walk out of the room. She had to admit the house and furnishings fit her personality. They were nicer than anything she had when married to Jenny’s father. Above the fireplace hung a painting of something modern and funky, which did not go with the rest of the decor in the room, but she knew the piece made her mother happy. She had picked it up at a gallery on Second Street a few weeks ago and had not stopped talking about it since. Philadelphia hosted a Friday of the Arts on the first Friday of each month, where the galleries remained open and people traveled in and out like tourists. Last year the DIH collaborated with the galleries for a fundraiser that was one of their most popular. Jenny wondered why they did not hold the event again this year, and wrote about it in her column last month.
“Here we go,” her mother said, walking back into the room and handing Jenny a bone china teacup. “A steaming cup of Earl Grey as you likes it.”
“Thank you, Mom,” she said, accepting the cup from her mother’s well-manicured hand. “I guess that’s the painting you told me about.”
Her mother nodded with a smile, laying her hand on her chest as if she were in complete awe over it. “Yes, we hung it last week. It will not stay there since we bought it for Henry’s home office. We are redecorating for it. We ordered another more traditional piece for this room and it should be in next month.”
Jenny laughed. “You’re going to redecorate an entire office to fit a painting? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?”
Her mother shook her head and smoothed the material on the Chanel suit she wore. “You don’t understand the first thing about art, Jenny.” She shook her head.
Jenny laughed, “I do have a degree in fine art, remember?”
“All of that education apparently did nothing for you, not to mention your time employed at the museum.”
Jenny snickered. “It is a lovely piece. It’s just that most people buy art to fit into their existing style, and not the other way around.”
“That’s absolutely not true,” her mother said, sitting and crossing her arms in defiance. “This is an intelligent, one of a kind piece that begs to have a room fit around it. Besides it’s much too modern to stay here, and it belongs to Henry since it is an anniversary gift.”
Jenny looked worried for a moment, fidgeting with the cloth napkin on her lap. “Did I miss it? I thought you got married in June.”
Her mother looked quizzical. “I’m talking about the anniversary of our first date. You may not be aware of it, but it’s common to celebrate those specific anniversaries, too.”
Jenny ignored the criticism and smiled. “That’s an awful generous gift to give someone for the anniversary of your first date. How will you top that when your real anniversary comes around?”
“I don’t have to top anything,” she said. “Jenny, you’re taking all of the joy out of gift giving, you know.”
Her mother was right this time. She did go overboard. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It was thoughtful of you, mother.” In her own way, Jenny felt a little envious that her mother had a new life and a second husband, and she did not have one yet. Right then, she sensed the question coming.
“So, are you seeing anyone special?” Her mother acted as if she had not seen her in months the way she phrased this question, an effort that Jenny ignored.
“No, not since last Sunday,” she said, trying not to appear snotty, but saying it the same.
Her mother smiled, ignoring the sarcasm. Jenny thought she resembled Donna Reed with a darker shade of hair and minus the heart of gold, but today, decked out in the Chanel suit and impeccably accessorized, she looked a little like Alexis Carrington from “Dynasty”. She did look lovely for a woman nearly 70. Maybe she was too hard on her mother.
Seconds later, the five intruders made their entrance, snapping Jenny back to reality.
“You’re earlier than I expected,” her mother said jumping up to greet them.
“We finished our business, and bought lottery tickets on the way home.” Henry looked happy. “Hello, Jenny. We bought some for you too. Maybe we’ll all be rich.”
“Hello, Henry, I thought you already were rich,” she said.
“Jenny!” her mother stammered. “Don’t be rude.”
“I thought he was, Mother.” Jenny cleared her throat and wrapped her sweater tighter around her. Now the games could begin.
Henry laughed. “You can never have too much money, my dear.”
“Hello, Jenny,” Emma and Sarah said in unison, as if they were still joined by the umbilical cord.
“Hello, girls,” Jenny said with a smile. Girls are how her mother always referred to them and she simply followed suit.
All of the sickening politeness continued with the typical nods from the two finances, to which Jenny nodded back.
“Lottery fever has taken over,” Henry said, handing Jenny a few tickets. “Isn’t it grand?”
Her mother laughed. “Jenny isn’t much for the lottery, or for taking chances, Henry. You know that. But she’s told me the lottery machine in her little shop does well.” The words made her blood boil. “I do have a lottery ticket already, Mother. Mr. Hiller, one of my best customers, bought one for me.”
“Oh, dear,” her mother said. “Is that the lonely widower that you talk about? He is old for you, isn’t he? Although he does have money, Jenny, and he wouldn’t be a bad catch in that case.”
“That is disgusting,” she said. “He’s my friend, mother. You shouldn’t speak of him that way.”
“Why don’t we all sit down and eat,” her mother said, ignoring her comment, “and we can catch up on all of the wedding details.”
“Great,” Jenny said, realizing it came out a little more sarcastic than she wanted to present, a sound that preceded cold glances by both of the brides-to-be.
“The reverend doesn’t have a problem with releasing the butterflies outside, so I do hope it’s a sunny day,” Emma said.
“I still think doves will be better,” Sarah said. “More fitting to the occasion.”
“Babe,” Sarah’s finance, Robbie Thornton said. “PETA will have a field day with keeping birds locked up like that.”
“Who cares what those spoiled sports think,” Sarah said pouting and sounding like a three-year old.
“We don’t want them showing up with red paint on our special day,” Emma said.
“Why would PETA show up at your wedding?” Jenny asked.
“We’re sending out a press release explaining the details,” Joseph Parsons, Emma’s finance said. “We want the press to show up, and have to be respectful.
“You want the media to come to your wedding,” Jenny replied. “Why?”
“It’s good for daddy’s business,” Emma added.
The four of them could not have looked more like Ken and Barbie if they tried, although the girls could have also easily passed for one of those insipid characters on any of those MTV programs. Emma and Sarah both wore gray wool slacks and pink sweaters, although thankfully they were not identical, and had matching pearls and straight blonde hair that fell below their shoulders. Their grooms had dark wavy hair, nondescript faces, and wore khaki pants and pink Ralph Lauren golf shirts. The couples were ready for the country club scene.
“You can bring your gentlemen friend to the wedding,” Emma said looking her square in the face.
“Who?” Jenny asked.
“You know, the gentlemen who gave you the lottery ticket.”
Jenny could feel her cheeks turn red-hot. Damn, her mother. Why did she have to say such a thing? “We’re not dating. He’s just a friend.”
“Ask him anyway,” Sarah said, passing the over the bagels. “I told you I can’t eat any carbs before the wedding.”
Jenny tried to smile. “He’s an elderly gentleman who just lost his wife. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“But it would be better than coming alone,” Sarah said.
“And much less embarrassing,” Emma added.
Jenny felt her eyes beginning to swell, and told herself she would not cry in front of these buffoons. “I wasn’t planning on coming alone, but I don’t have to come at all,” she snapped. “I’d prefer it that way to be honest with you.”
Her mother shot her a look of terror, her second of the day. “Jenny, please apologize.”
Her mother’s words stopped her dead in her tracks. “Why should I apologize?”
Henry shrugged, while the other two men sat in stone silence. “I agree with Jenny,” he said. “There’s no need to apologize. We’re all fine, right?”
Emma and Sarah shot each other looks of tension, then their lips curled to show a small smile between them. “Who do you think she was going to bring?” one whispered to the other.
“That’s fine,” Jenny said. That little voice inside her head told her to defend herself and she planned to do just that. “Go ahead and laugh,” she said as a few years of anger began to boil inside of her. “Laugh all you want. But I won’t stay to listen to it.”
She left the dining room and quickly walked out of the front door. When she got back on the street, she let the tears flow, and as if she timed them to perfection and a taxi approached to take her away.
Jenny returned to her apartment, still upset by the brash events that pushed her to the brim, but her heart had calmed and she knew this would pass. Dramatic exits like this did not often happen in her world, but they had happened before, so she knew what to expect. Neither she nor her mother would put in a call to each other to discuss the incident. They would simply shove it aside and take part in the next brunch as if nothing ever happened.