August 11, 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, Chapter Fifteen, Chapter Sixteen,Chapter Seventeen, Chapter Eighteen, Chapter Nineteen
The bachelorette party plans sprung on Jenny weren’t surprising, yet she winced thinking about what was expected of her. How in the world could she spend five days in Paris with her two stepsisters, four of their obnoxious friends who were bridesmaids, and her mother? Why did she have to go, anyway? She wasn’t in the wedding. Those girls had no real substance, giving more thought to the wedding plans than to the actual marriage. After the lavish affair ended, they’d soon settle into a life of boredom, while their husbands worked round the clock chasing their assistants around their desks. Cliché, yes, but that’s how she saw those two dull young women, who had been bred for this position since birth. It wasn’t their fault, still Jenny didn’t want a part of any of it.
Stranger yet, Henry and her mother offered to foot the bill for the entire crew – and here’s where the hurtful conversation came into play – with the money that had been put aside for Jenny’s wedding that never came to be. That didn’t have to be mentioned, but those words flowed a little to easily from one of the twins, and if Jenny wasn’t mistaken, even her mother looked a bit shocked by the comment. It wasn’t necessary to hold on to those funds, the Barbie doll said with a little too much glee. Jenny made no comment, partly because she didn’t want them to know they’d hurt her – their obvious task – and because her mother had made a fuss preparing her favorites for brunch, a small token, but much appreciated.
On the other hand, Jenny should have kept a manual over the years with the cutting ways her mother would “try to help her and hurt her in the end. She had to mention the funds to the girls, after all. Disguised as concern, the remarks were even more hurtful.
“You look tired,” she would say, which translated to you look like crap and when are you going to do something about it.
Or, “You don’t seem happy to me.” Translation, how can you be happy without a man in your life?
There were many others, but Jenny did not want to focus on the negative now. She had a day to prepare for, and as she puttered around the shop that Monday morning, she realized she’d have to leave shortly to meet Charlotte for lunch, and she still had not decided what to do about the DIH gala.
Within the hour, she closed up shop and headed toward the restaurant known as “Fare”, located in the Fairmount section of the city. It specialized in organic cuisine, and was built with eco-friendly materials, a big trend these days, which made the restaurant popular. Located across from the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, and a few blocks away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it provided an interesting choice for visitors to both of Philadelphia’s famous landmarks. This time, a cab ride would be quicker than walking, as she did not want to leave the shop for more than one hour.
She hailed a taxi in front of the store, and reached the restaurant in 10 minutes. Charlotte sat at a table nearest the large window in the front, which faced Fairmount Avenue, sipping on mineral water as Jenny paid the driver and exited. Attempting to appear confident, she walked through the front door wondering what to expect out of this meeting. After she sat, she ensued in the polite pleasantries with Charlotte and the server. They both ordered the Avocado crab cakes.
“I didn’t mean to put you on edge the other day,” Charlotte said to ease the mood. “Like I said, I have no intention of outing you if you don’t want to be.”
Jenny smiled and nodded, feeling a little at ease but not enough to appease her. “I do appreciate that,” she said. “I know it may be a bit unorthodox how I come about my information, but I’ve never printed anything that wasn’t true.” Jenny realized she sounded as if she were trying to rationalize her actions, which could come across as appearing guilty. “Sure, took advantage a few times by getting my digs in about the membership policy, I try to stay away from anything that I consider gossip.”
“Oh, I realize that, Jenny, and I appreciate it. Besides, you don’t have to justify it for me. I’m glad you did it.” Charlotte fiddled with her while cloth napkin and took a sip of the iced mineral water, as Jenny helped herself to a glass from the bottle on the table. “You know, I agree with you about the policy, and I have been taking steps to change it. However, I am not able to pass it myself. I’m hoping together we can change that.” Charlotte looked amazing as usual in a Chanel pantsuit that the designer referred to as both understated and classic in a bronze shade. The fabric had the right sheen to it and it matched her coloring. Jenny felt ridiculous across from her dressed in a gray skirt, black ballet flats, and a plainer than can be dusty rose sweater. She liked the comfort of the clothes, but seeing Charlotte dressed to the nines, and still looking comfortable to boot, she realized that she could dress better. Maybe with some of the lottery winnings she would do a little shopping.
“Do you mind if I ask how you started the column?” Charlotte asked.
Jenny took a sip of water. “I’ve always been interested in writing,” she said. “I minored in journalism in college, but never felt I had the right personality to pursue it as a career.” She then stirred a packet of raw sugar that sat on the table into the mineral water to give it a little more flavor. It tasted rather bland. “A journalist who is afraid to ask some of the more important questions won’t find too much success.”
Charlotte offered a kind smile. “That’s not a negative thing, you know. Many journalists are intrusive.” She nodded. “Go on,” she continued.
Jenny did not mind the interruption, and appreciated Charlotte’s empathy. “When I opened the shop, and grew to miss my old life at the museum, I thought maybe I could write an arts column for one of the local papers to stay a part of the world I was leaving. It was not an idea that excited many of the local editors I pitched it to, so I gave up for a while. Then when I applied for the DIH, I started to pay attention to the women who would come into the store. I’d listen to their conversations about the parties and meetings, and I started to keep journals with all of the information.” She laughed. “My intent was good at first,” she said. “I wanted to be a prepared member. I was certain they would take me in because they knew me and kept coming back to use my services. Then I started overhearing some juicy stuff in conversations, and I wrote that down, too. I never expected I would do anything with it, but when the denial came in the mail, I felt angry enough to call my current editor and pitch him the idea about the society column, with a heavy focus on the dealings of the DIH. I guess I was a little surprised that he bought it, and even more surprised it caught on and became popular.”
“I have been a fan since you started, and I love the old movie references. They make it so entertaining when you know the people involved. I admit I have been curious about who wrote the columns. I even called your editor a few times, but he protected your privacy.”
“He’s a good guy,” Jenny added, “but now that the invitation has been sent to the paper, he wants me to come clean, too. I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
Charlotte smiled and took a deep breath. “I’ll be honest, Jenny, they did extend that invitation because they want to know who is writing about them, and who has the inside information. Like I said, they believe it’s someone from the inside writing it, or at least feeding it to the writer.”
“That’s not the case here,” Jenny said. “No one has ever given me any information about the DIH, at least not purposely.”
Once the server brought the food to the table, the women began to eat.
“So, what do you plan to do?” Charlotte asked.
“I don’t know,” Jenny said. “I’m afraid I’ll lose the bulk of my business if I do, especially if they consider me a traitor.”
“These women are a bit curious because you have stumped them, so they might be angry. On the other hand, you are the one shop in town that meets their needs so sufficiently, and has the connections that you do, so they cannot afford to lose you. I think deep down they see that the columns have done well by putting the club in a positive light. They just don’t appreciate being outsmarted.”
Jenny watched Charlotte closely. She was a great role model, so this could prove to be a valuable experiment if they began spending time together to develop a plan. She wanted to change, even though she fought it so hard whenever Fiona or her mother brought the subject to her attention. She had to admit that even with the small chances she began to take, her life was fuller and more interesting. “So you think I should do it?” she asked her new friend. The thought petrified her because she did not believe she had the courage or the self-esteem to do it.
“I can’t answer that for you, but I would be thrilled if you did,” Charlotte answered. “We need people like you to inject some fresh ideas into this stodgy aging club. We need people with their finger on the pulse of the city, and who has the insight that you.”
“The paper wants me to accept but keep my identity a secret until the gala in May. That way, they can get ample publicity out of it.”
“I think that’s a splendid idea. We can get great publicity out of it, too. And I’ll bet we’d sell out this year, which is something that hasn’t happened in the last six years, ever since Martha took over.”
“How could I help with that?”
“Jenny, whether you know it or not, or are ready to deal with it, you’re a local celebrity. The board may not like it too much because they like to be the center of attention, but they need a shot of adrenalin as much as anyone else or they will become stale. They won’t admit but they know it.”
Jenny smiled and nodded, with all kinds of thoughts running through her head. She wanted to do it, but something still held her back. “I need more time,” she said, and left it at that.”
Charlotte smiled. “Yes, you have a decision to make, Jenny. And I hope it’s the right one.”
When Jenny left Charlotte, she felt relieved. Lunch had gone much better than she expected, and she once again realized that nothing was ever quite as bad as she thought it would be. Her overactive imagination could be her downfall sometimes.
On the way back to the shop, her heart raced. She wanted to take on this challenge, become a member of the DIH and do some good for the community she loved so much. However, she had never been this bold before. This was huge, and one she wasn’t ready to commit. If she could get what she wanted, yet still sit in the background as a journalist, life would be perfect. Then it hit her, and she smiled. She knew exactly how she could pull this off.