August 25, 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, Twenty-Two
Watching Mr. Hiller leave the store a few hours before had to be the most difficult thing Jenny faced since her father had passed away. She couldn’t stop thinking about never getting to see him again, no matter how hard she tried to push it out of her mind. She wanted to close the shop and run down the street, ring his doorbell and beg him not to leave. But she knew she couldn’t do that. He probably had last minute packing to do before leaving for the airport, and she had to be content with his visit this morning. Funny, he’d only come in to her life a few short months ago, but their bond was quick and she hoped permanent.
Lately, her life had been one surprise after the next. Maybe that excited most people, but she wasn’t used to it. You have to accept the good with the bad, she murmured to herself throughout the day, and she realized that Mr. Hiller had to make this trip or else he wouldn’t be going. That relieved some of the sadness. The issues with the DIH, her step sisters’ wedding and their insipid idea to go to Paris for a bachelorette party in a few weeks, along Mr. Hiller’s connection to Martha Chadwick all seemed minor compared to his latest bombshell. Strange occurrences, indeed, although she somehow knew Mr. Hiller would call them opportunities and scold her for not taking advantage of them. The DIH event was a grand gala that she should be proud to attend, and what crazy girl wouldn’t want to spend a week in Paris in the spring?
Jenny looked at the check in her hand and wondered what she should do. A quarter of a million dollars was a lot of money, more than she had ever seen in one lump sum, and she still did not know whether it was appropriate to accept it no matter how much he insisted. Part of her couldn’t help but think that it would provide a marvelous safety net to keep her store afloat in case she lost her best customers after introducing herself as Carrie Grant at the gala. He took her greatest fear away and provided with exactly what she needed, and she loved him for that. She’d put the check in her bank account and hold on to it for safety reasons. Then if all went well, she could donate it to a worthy charity in Mr. Hiller’s name.
Her eyes filled with tears thinking about his illness. He promised he would write and call and he never said he would be gone for good, but she knew. His house, put on the market, had been a sign, and returning to the country of his birth was the icing on the cake. What else would ever bring him back here now that his wife was no longer here? She had to keep reminding herself she was lucky to have gotten to know such a charming and wonderful man.
The knock on the window outside brought her back to her reality. Like every other morning, Fiona knocked and waved each time she passed on her way to work in the morning. Jenny waved back and smiled. Jenny had shared the information from last night’s book club, and Fiona seemed happy for her, but maybe a little envious too. That was an unusual occurrence.
“The oddest thing about it is receiving that text message from him right after I found out,” she said. “He knew we were on break at that time, and he wanted to check in and see how I was doing.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Fiona asked.
“There’s nothing I can do, Fiona. The man may be heartbroken. I have no idea why they broke up.”
“From the way you’ve explained the story, it seems like he broke up with her. You don’t want to lose an opportunity to show him your interest.”
“Maybe he’s not ready to jump in again. When a person is fresh from a breakup, they need time to recover.”
Fiona shook her head. “You mean women need time to recover. Men are different animals. They need a partner. They need to have the next girl lined up before they take the step to end their current relationship.” Fiona smiled and patted Jenny’s hand. “You know, I read an article once that said women would leave a relationship to better their lives, where men will leave a relationship only if there is someone already waiting in the wings.”
Jenny panicked a little. “That’s something I never thought of,” she said. “What if he already has someone else to go to?”
“So what if he does. And maybe it’s you, did you ever think of that?”
“ No,” she said.
“That’s half your problem, my friend. You have to start going after what you want or be satisfied to spend the rest of your life alone.”
“ What about him? Why doesn’t he have to do the same?”
“He is out there. He dates. He has a social life. You need to catch up. And be brave enough to show you are interested. Or to ask him on a date.”
Jenny smiled in fear. “I know I could never do that.”
“Yes you can,” Fiona snapped. “You simply choose not to. Now let’s discuss the gala. I think I found the perfect dress to…”
“You don’t have to worry about that, Finoa. I decided you were right. I need to face up to the challenge. It’s silly to think about playing games with these people. I accuse them of not being trustworthy, and then I want to do the same. That’s not right. I created this mystery and I need to fix it.”
Fiona actually looked hurt. “The idea began to grow on me, but I understand. It’s your right to…”
Jenny smiled and interrupted again. “I’m sorry, Fiona. I didn’t think you seemed interested, anyway. I had to twist your arm to get you to consider it.”
Fiona shrugged. “Yeah, but now that it’s been twisted, I came to think it would be fun to pretend to be this mysterious writer person. I even developed a personality and voice to go with it.”
Jenny laughed. “You did what?”
“I developed her character a little. How she talks, what she drinks, which is cosmopolitans, by the way.”
Fiona shrugged. “Hey, it might have been fun.”
“Why don’t you come with me then? I’ll still buy you a smashing dress.”
Fiona smiled. “Now why would you do that?”
“I’m doing it because you are my friend, and because I want to. There’s no need to be concerned with my finances.” She smiled. “You’ll have a budget, you know. I won’t be paying for a vintage Valentino, but we could have a little fun shopping. So, will you come?”
Fiona smiled. “Sure.”
# # # # # # #
With genuine disappointment, Fiona began her short journey to work rehashing the conversation of the night before. She didn’t exactly want to be Jenny’s date. The gala only appealed to her if she could play the part of the star. Now that the attraction was removed, and Jenny decided to appear herself, it didn’t seem interesting to sit by her side and cheer her on. Fiona was more a of a headline girl, and not someone who shined only on the sidelines.
Last night when she let in sink in what Jenny asked her to do, she still felt a little squeamish. Soon she realized that this announcement could be big. She didn’t read the column in the paper, but heard a lot of buzz from those who did enjoy it. Surely there would be press coverage of the event, and if her picture happened to end of up in the newspaper, Doug may see it and realized what a mistake he made. Her popularity could be good for his business, too. Surely, he could see that. Maybe she could appear in newspaper ads, or even commercials for his plumbing business, and it would bring in more customers. She should have gotten a job in PR. She was a natural at this stuff.
Later, she’d tell Jenny that she couldn’t go and come up with some excuse, before she went to the expense of an extra dress. She toyed with the idea of going for a few hours last night, when she was going to be the main event, thinking that perhaps she could meet a nice eligible man there. However, in the harsh light of day she realized that no single man would go to an event like that unless he was forced to either by a wife or girlfriend, which no longer meant he was single. If Jenny pushed the issue, and begged her to attend for friendly support or some such nonsense, she may reconsider, but she didn’t think it would come to that. Jenny acted shy and awkward, but she could also be strong and would never stop being dateless from letting her do what she wanted. If that were the case, she’d never leave home. Jenny did have a relatively active social life. It may not have been to Fiona’s standards, but she did find interests that others shared, and took advantage of that.
Right before she walked into the Criminal Investigations Building, she spotted a familiar face being led inside in handcuffs. She typically used the back entrance as the front was often too crowded with visitors and people reporting for jury duty. Prisoners arrived by the back door, as well, but that was often earlier than she reported. The face froze her for a moment, just as it did years ago when he came out of a hotel restroom and caught her paging through his wallet. Gilbert Crawley was in Philadelphia, and the feeling in the pit of her stomach intensified. What was he doing here? Would he even remember her? It had been over 20 years? He still looked the same, a little grayer perhaps, but he still had a full head of hair and a decent build. God, she hated him.
Apparently the devil had taken up residence long enough to have allegedly committed a crime in Philadelphia, and suddenly she panicked that she would be in his courtroom as the stenographer. She knew Judge Klein’s docket by heart, for she had worked with the same man for nearly 15 years, but she also knew that trials were delayed and changes were made to fill in for down times every day. It would be just her luck to have this happen to her now. Still panicked she ran into the ladies’ room, took out her contact lenses, and wrapped her long hair into a bun. Her large glasses and up do hairstyle may be a bit of a disguise in case the nightmare played out.
She walked to her desk, located right outside of the Judge’s chambers and next to the courtroom and logged in. She panicked a little more when she saw the judge had a new case on the docket today because of a cancellation, then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw it was an assault and battery charge for a George Fenwick, who was accused of beating his mistress after she told his wife about the affair. It sounded dreadful, but she was relieved it wasn’t Gilbert Crawley’s case.
Quickly, she logged into the criminal database and entered Gilbert’s name, curious about what he was being tried for. It took a few moments to appear on the screen, and Fiona soon realized that Mr. Crawley had quite a rap sheet for passing bad checks and other petty crimes. His trial was set to begin today, and was expected to last for four days with jury deliberations. He’d been living at an address in South Philadelphia for the last ten years, according to his record, and this was a third offense for writing a bad check. That meant, if convicted he would face a lengthy sentence, according to Philadelphia’s new three strikes and you’re out law. It was going to be an interesting week.
Fiona tried to be relieved, and she nodded good morning to her co-workers who began trickling in, but realized that she felt uneasy just knowing Gilbert was in the building. She would use the front door now for entering and leaving, knowing it would be safer until he was no longer appearing in court. That meant lunches and breaks would be at her desk until then, since the courtrooms were relatively close and she did not want to take the chance of running into him in the halls. Life was strange sometimes, sending reminders when you didn’t need them, and staying silent when you did. She sighed as she settled at her desk for what she believed to be the equivalent to a long, cold winter.