August 14, 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, Chapter Twenty
Four voicemails awaited Jenny when she returned to the shop, all looking for specific things, and all from women who belonged to the DIH. This alone proved what she knew all along. Those women were the bulk of her business and the risk of coming clean at the gala could be her downfall. How many times had her father told her not to bite the hand that fed her?
Nevertheless, if she decided to take that bite, Fiona would be the perfect cover. Fiona could confess at the gala, claiming she is Carrie Grant, and Jenny could get the satisfaction through her and not jeopardize her business. It was the perfect plan. Now she had to convince Fiona.
Jenny called her at work and asked her to come for dinner. That way, she could approach the subject with ease. Then she decided to close for the rest of the day and make an appointment at her hairstylist. When she mentioned what she wanted over the phone, the stylist begged her to come in immediately. She had urged Jenny to cut her hair shorter and add some highlights for years now, and wanted to jump at the opportunity while Jenny was agreeable.
To think this sudden change came from the conversation she had had with Mr. Hiller about what he wanted to do with his lottery winnings. He had been vague, but he also insisted on buying her a dress for the gala and joked about acting like her personal Henry Higgins.
“You should start calling me Eliza now,” she said with a smile when he told her. “Are you saying I need a makeover? Not that I haven’t heard it before, but I didn’t expect it from you.”
“Heavens no, Jenny. “ Outward appearances are important in life and that may be unfortunate, but it is always a goal to put your best foot forward. Besides, you already have the most important part down. You’re a lovely woman both inside and out.”
She blushed. “Mr. Hiller, you don’t have to flatter me. And I wouldn’t feel right letting you buy me a dress. I can afford to buy one with my lottery winnings.”
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Jenny, so pardon me if I speak out of turn.”
She stopped for a moment and looked at him wondering what could be coming next. Another lecture about accepting gifts. “Go on,” replied.
“If you’re going to take that ballroom by storm, I believe more powerful clothes are in order.”
She smiled feeling relieved. “You may have a point there, Mr. Hiller.”
“And I want to help. I never had a daughter, so I never had the privilege of buying a prom dress or wedding dress, so let me do this for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hiller. That is kind of you, but I can’t let you do that,” she said, almost fighting back the tears.
He shrugged. “No, it’s my gift and you have to accept it. I took a chance and made an appointment for you with my wife’s stylist at Bloomingdales.” He handed her a card. She is waiting for your call. And if I were you I’d pick up a few other pieces while I’m in a generous mood.”
That is when the tears started to flow for real.
“Ah, Jenny,” he said offering a hug, “You have meant so much to me these past months. This is the least I can do.”
She thought about their conversation as her stylist finished her hair. After the cut and color, which she adored, the stylist talked her into buying some skin products to enhance her complexion. She handed a magnifying mirror to Jenny, who looked horrified seeing her face 10 times its normal size.
“You need to care for your skin and get rid of the dead skin cells,” she said. “Did you know the number one cause of aging skin is the accumulation of free radicals?”
“That sounds dreadful,” Jenny replied, not understanding a word that she had said.
The stylist smiled. “What is your present skin care regime?”
“My regime?” Jenny shrugged and laughed. “You make it sound so political,” she said.
The stylist did not seem amused.
“You know with the free radicals and the regime … oh never mind.”
By the time she left the salon and spa, she was nearly $300 poorer than when she entered. Once she arrived at home, she called the stylist at Bloomingdales to make an appointment and admitted that this was fun.
When Fiona arrived for dinner, she could not believe the change a small hairstyle had made and could not take her eyes off Jenny, which made her laugh. The stylist placed warm caramel highlights in her hair, which brightened up immediately, and cut it into a shorter bob style, chin length, with a choppy side bang. Jenny, shocked by her appearance, admitted that she loved the change when the stylist told her it would be easy to maintain.
“You look wonderful,” Fiona said, “but I have to admit it’s a bit unnerving. There’s already too much competition out there.”
Jenny laughed at the dramatics. For a change, she wanted to change the subject and talk about Doug. “You’ve surprised me, Fiona,” she said. “Not that I didn’t think you were capable, but I’m happy and proud you’ve done the right thing and haven’t tried to contact him.”
“It hasn’t been easy,” Fiona said, stuffing her mouth with a forkful of pasta that Jenny had delivered. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the longest I’ve ever been unattached to boot.”
“It’s been three weeks,” Jenny said with a laugh. “And that’s your record.”
Fiona smiled. “What can I say? I like men and they like me. I will tell you something else. Doug called me a few days ago. Didn’t leave a message, but I saw his number on my cell. And I didn’t call him back.”
“Fiona, that’s wonderful!” Jenny said. “Now the next relationship will be with an available single man, and will be for keeps. Keep chanting that.”
“Yeah, and maybe I’ll believe it. Have our roles reversed or something? What was in that hair dye, anyway?”
Jenny laughed. “I almost wish,” she said, “but since you’ve brought up a role reversal, I do have a favor to ask.”
Jenny gave Fiona a condensed version of the DIH drama unfolding before her, and her second career as a newspaper columnist, which took her by surprise. Then she added the part about the fax arriving at the newspaper about joining the DIH.”
“That’s wonderful, Jenny. Sounds like it all worked out for you.”
Jenny paused for a moment, and then filled her in on her fears about the business and the DIH walking away from her when they find out.
“I don’t know if I’d worry about that too much,” Fiona said. “They may be too embarrassed to show that you got to them, and continue to do business with you to save face. What’s this favor? Do you want me to sleep with their husbands or something?”
Jenny laughed, though it was not funny. Then she wondered if Fiona would do that, and realized she probably would. “Heavens, no. Nothing that scandalous, anyway. I wondered if you would help me bend the truth a little.”
Fiona laughed. “The pure and good Jennifer Hobbs wants me to lie. Well, I never…”
Jenny laughed, too. “I guess I am that horrid, aren’t I?”
“Jenny, get to the point. What do you want me to do?”
“A little favor, that’s all,” she said trying to buy more time. “I want you to go to the DIH gala, since it is within your range of the city. It’s held every year at the Hotel at the Bellevue on Broad Street.”
“OK, so you want me to be your date so you don’t have to go alone, no problem. I do wish Andrew was a possibility for you, though.”
Jenny shrugged. “I don’t want you to be my date, Fiona. I want you to be me. Or I want you to be Carrie Grant.”
Fiona laughed. “What on earth for?”
“So you can be the public persona behind the name, and I’ll continue to do the writing. That way, we both get what we want since you like the spotlight much more than me. And, I get to keep my business.”
Fiona frowned. “Jenny, I don’t know about this. What would your editor say?”
“I don’t think he’d have a problem with it, and then we’d have to convince one of the members, Charlotte Ampstead, too, but I think they’ll both go along with it knowing it might be best from a business perspective.” She also realized she would have to inform Mr. Hiller, and she knew he would not like it one bit.
Fiona still did not look convinced. “What would I have to do?”
“Not much. Show up at the gala in May and accept the award as Carrie Grant. There could be a little media coverage of the event, and you might want to prepare a short speech about what an honor it is to become a DIH member, which I can put together for you. You will be the face behind the name. Your life will continue as usual.”
“Jenny, why are you so afraid? You’re the one who wants to be a member of that club. It’s not my thing.”
“But I can do it through you, like I do with everything else in life.” Jenny shrugged. “I’ve never told you that before, have I? I may not always agree with what you do, but I am kind of envious that you have the nerve.”
“Good grief, Jenny, I’m the agoraphobic, and I’m supposed to be the one with the problem. How is it that I am able to do more than you?”
Jenny looked at her. “Because you are a beautiful woman, Fiona, with much more confidence than I will ever have.”
“Let me let you in on a little secret, my friend. I don’t think I have more confidence than you do, I just don’t want to be alone, and that is a stronger feeling. You’re making me envious with this new look, by the way. Besides, everyone is scared. I try not to let my normal fears paralyze me as my abnormal ones do. God, I am a head case, too, but you’re beating me here, girl.”
“I know it sounds crazy, Fiona, but I think it could work. You love parties. I love being in the background. We’ll shop for the perfect ball gown, my treat of course, and it will all be perfect.”
“It would be better if you would if you did this yourself. Besides I’m not into going to the meetings.”
Jenny frowned. “I hadn’t thought about that. It won’t be a big deal. They know you work during the day, and won’t make it to day meetings. They hold a night meeting each month to compensate.”
“That doesn’t sound fun, either,” Fiona said.
“Please,” she begged.
Fiona paused for what seemed like eternity. “I’ll do it, but I think it’s a big mistake,” Fiona said. “You should be the one making the big statement that night. Like you did with your hair today. Think about the satisfaction of seeing the look of shock on those miserable bitchy faces.”
“I will admit that’s a little intriguing,” Jenny said, “but I can’t take the chance.”
Fiona nodded. “Anything to help out a friend,” she said.
“One other thing,” Jenny said. “Do you want to go clothes shopping after work tomorrow? I think it’s time to update the wardrobe, too. And maybe I’ll even buy a little makeup.”
Fiona seemed giddy as a large smile appeared on her face. “Please don’t tease me,” she said with dramatic flair. “I thought you would never ask.”