August 18, 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, Chapter Twenty-One
The crushing weight of the DIH gala had lifted. The dirty details were settled. Now it was time to shift focus to the book club meeting, the one she had promised Andrew she’d host just before her heart was broken by news of his romantic getaway with Melissa. Even without the possibility of a romance, she didn’t want to disappoint Andrew and she wanted to do a good job, but with all that had been going on her in life recently she had done little to prepare. Still, she knew the book well because he had penned it, and that was a slight comfort. She knew the words, heard the pattern of his voice in them and she had read it several times. It was a brilliant book.
With that settled, her mind wandered back to the DIH gala. The decision to ask Fiona to come out at the DIH gala was a good one, she felt sure of that. Cowardly, perhaps, but she didn’t mind. It was all she could handle right now anyway. It might be difficult to break the news to Charlotte and Mr. Hiller, and likely would try to talk her out of the decision.
At least her shopping trip with Fiona had been pleasant. They had different tastes in clothing and that she knew that going in, but Jenny managed to pick out some classic pieces that were more Kate Middleton than Madonna, and Fiona seemed pleased. Tonight, she’d wear black tights with a black skirt a few inches above her knee and a deep lipstick red cashmere sweater that warmed her skin tone. She’d also sport shoes with a two-inch heel, stylish patent leather Mary Janes still inside her comfort zone, yet fashionable. She hoped walking wouldn’t be a problem! She topped it all off with gold hoop earrings and a large gold ornate cross on a long black silk cord that stood out against the red material of the sweater. Accessories were the most fun.
One down, two to go, she thought realizing that the second task would be a bit more difficult. How could she convince the group she could lead them when she had no confidence in her ability to do so? All of these thoughts swam through her head as she walked along in the cool night air the six blocks to the Free Library, where her book club met every other Wednesday, wondering how she would pull this off. She told herself that of all the tasks she had coming up, that this one was the easiest since Andrew or Melissa would not be there to witness it if she failed. That helped a little, even though realizing where they were right now, on their romantic trip to London and possibly Paris, made it difficult to swallow. She thought about pulling a classic substitute teacher move, asking the group to read quietly in their seats, but that would not work. They were adults and could do that at home. It would be a waste of their time to travel to the library, and Andrew would be disappointed if he found out what she’d done. She could do this. She knew the material, and had even armed herself with great discussion points she found on UPenn’s website just in case she stumbled.
Jenny reached the library earlier than usual and entered the conference room where the group met. She hadn’t expected to see Melissa, sitting in her usual spot, alongside the lead chair typically occupied by Andrew. Maybe they didn’t go, she thought, but why hadn’t Andrew told her? There were two other people there that arrived early by habit as usual, but other than that, the rest of the group had not yet arrived. Her curiosity piqued and her heart pounded as she sat across from Melissa in her usual spot, two seats down from the leader on the other side. What was she doing here? Where was Andrew?
“I’m surprised to see you,” Jenny whispered, letting Melissa know she was in on their little secret. “I thought you’d be on vacation.” Melissa looked puzzled, almost like she didn’t recognize her. Jenny remembered her updated look, but realized she didn’t look that different.
“I thought I would be, too,” she said, a comment, which did not provide enough of an answer and begged for more. Jenny didn’t have the guts to pursue the conversation further. Instead, she sat in silence while the other empty seats filled in, and on top of the hour, at 7 p.m., when she realized Andrew was not there, she took a deep breath, walked up to the podium and welcomed everyone to the meeting.
“You look different,” a male voice said, but she did not know whom, and everyone in the room looked at her as if they thought the same. She tried not to care about that and felt a little awkward. Truthfully, she was happy they noticed, but she didn’t want to make a big deal about it.
She smiled. “Just a little hair color and make up, that’s all. Now, as you know, Andrew couldn’t be here tonight, so he asked me to fill in,” she said, her voice weak, but gaining a little strength with every word. She felt her face turning red, and hoped the rest of the group could not see her nervousness. Speaking in front of groups, not her thing and never would be, seemed to highlight her social phobias even more. She had a tendency to speak and forget to breathe when she presented anything, wishing to get through it as quickly as possible, and she reminded herself to slow it down.
“To prepare for this evening’s discussion, we read chapters five through nine of the book,” she began, “and I don’t know about you, but I learned a lot about Benjamin Franklin that I didn’t know, about his legitimate son, and his decision to declare his loyalty to the crown. Do you think that was meant as a slap in the face to his father, or do you believe young William’s opinions really swayed toward England and the King?” She saw Melissa’s face cringe when she mentioned England, and deduced to herself that there had to be trouble in paradise.
“It was easily a decision aimed to hurt his father,” Mark Klein said, starting the conversation. Mark, an older man, reminded her a little of Jimmy Stewart when he starred in ‘How the West Was Won’. He seemed like a gentle soul, much more than many of the other group members, but then again he seemed quick with his opinions, and with his ability to start a conversation. “William knew how Benjamin felt about the treatment of the colonies by the British government. It was a loud statement heard around Pennsylvania for sure.”
Jenny agreed with Mark’s assessment, but wanted to play devil’s advocate. “William did believe in following the King. Because he claimed to be a loyalist doesn’t make him a traitor, per se?”
“Indeed it does,” added Lizzie Gardner, another high school history teacher in the group. She taught 11th grade American History after World War II, Jenny knew, but she had a passion for the Colonial period. With a pointed nose and large eyes, she could almost pass for Joan Crawford if you used your imagination. “Back then, it was wrong for a boy to take a stand against his father. It could be punishable by imprisonment if the father wanted to push it that far. William knew what he did, and he realized he would crush Benjamin’s spirit by doing so.”
“I’m not sure it was solely to crush Benjamin’s spirit,” Fred Garvey, another member added, “but any hope of reconciliation was shattered when William Franklin became leader of The Board of Associated Loyalists. That did damage their relationship permanently.” Fred aptly named, resembled Fred MacMurray from the “My Three Sons” era complete with a cardigan sweater.
Thrilled with the conversation, and where it headed, Jenny felt glad she prepared for the lead role. Things were going so well, in fact, giving her a little confidence boost in between, that she decided she would be brave and dig for a little more information at the break regarding Andrew and why Melissa wasn’t with him. When Melissa headed to the ladies’ room, Jenny followed close behind.
“Is Andrew in England?” she asked softly but bravely.
Melissa turned to look at Jenny with an odd look on her face. “I suppose he’s still there,” she said. “At least he is supposed to be there, but who knows.”
Jenny smiled. “I’m sorry, I know it’s not my business.”
“Are you?” Melissa asked rather rudely. “It seems to me that you’re trying to find out why I’m here. I know he told you about us and it was probably a mistake that I came here tonight.”
Jenny felt odd and looked down. “Look, Melissa, I’m not trying to pry. I wondered, that’s all. I thought maybe he was with you tonight and that your plans changed. And if you didn’t want to make me wonder, perhaps it was a mistake to come here.” Melissa’s face showed the same surprise Jenny felt by being so outspoken. Nevertheless, she didn’t care for Melissa’s attitude.
“You can wonder no more,” Melissa said. “We broke up the night before we were supposed to leave. Can you imagine that? We were on our way to the hotel by the airport where we’d planned to stay because of our early flight, and it all unraveled from there.”
Jenny looked at her with sympathy. “I’m sorry,” she simply said.
“You know, I should have known,” Melissa said, continuing to ramble on. “He’s a 45 year old man who’s never been married, and never been in a relationship longer than a few months. Can you imagine that? What did I expect?”
“Melissa, I’m sorry. Did he give you a reason? I’ll be honest with you, when he told me about the two of you, he seemed happy.”
She laughed. “Oh, I bet he did. And yes, he gave me reason,” she said. “But you’ll have to ask him about it.”
Melissa walked out of line, and Jenny watched her walk to the conference room, gather her belongings and head toward the front door. Before she left, she turned to Jenny and said, “By the way, I liked you much better the other way.”
Jenny was stunned by the comment, and realized that Fiona said the exact same thing, although in a jovial tone. Women really were competitive with each other. Melissa reacted harshly, and not because she knew Jenny had feelings for Andrew. She had no way of knowing that other than the fact that she once said he was attractive. Then she smiled. It must have been because she looked better than usual or these women would not be reacting the way they were. Melissa was not coming back tonight, she realized, and maybe never again. A little part of that made her smile.
It made her even happier when noticed her cell phone a moment later and saw that Andrew sent her a text message. “Hope things are going well – I know they are,” it read. “How about meeting for coffee and filling me in on Monday at 6? Same place.” The message seemed timed to perfection, as if he knew, Melissa had taken her leave. Jenny could not help but revel a little in the fact that they had “a place”.
Her wide grin was more than apparent to everyone she assumed as she made her way back into the conference room for part two of the book club’s discussion.