Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Thirty-Three

Grand Ballroom 0002

September 29, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six,Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Chapter Thirty, Chapter Thirty-One, Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

The gala loomed closer, and the big event was scheduled for tomorrow night. Andrew had phoned yesterday to let Jenny know he would pick her up at 6 p.m. Although there had been no contact between the two of them since the day he showed up at her store, and asked her to go with him, there was warmth in his voice over the phone yesterday, and she was looking forward to their time together. It was one thing that helped her focus on her goal.

She’d also received a package from Mr. Hiller yesterday, as promised. Inside was a letter explaining that he wished her well that evening, but he knew she did not need his well wishes because she was more than up for the task in front of her. Inside the silver metallic box that looked like an antique itself, and like something she had seen on Antique Roadshow a few years back, laid a beautiful hair comb with a small butterfly encrusted in crystals. The note attached said, “If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies.”

The sweet, simple words brought tears to her eyes, and she missed her treasured friend more than ever. He sent her his heart and soul with his wonderful gift, and she would be forever grateful to know him. She hoped she was wrong, but somehow she believed she would not see him again. She had decided that she would donate the $250,000 he gave her from his lottery winnings to the DIH, with one stipulation. It had to go to the needy in the city and not to refurbish a historic building. Mr. Hiller’s kind gift made her change her mind. Instead, she would look for a charity that better suited him, such as animal rescue, or something to do with butterflies to show he had a way of bringing beauty and grace into every life he touched. He did that for her.

Jenny had also received a call from her mother, before she and the girls left for Paris, telling her she understood why she couldn’t come along. It was a huge development for them, and Jenny wished her mother a pleasant bon voyage, and asked her to extend it to the twins, as well. She hadn’t spoken to any of them since the blow up at brunch, and it was nice of her mother to reach out to her. Things had finally started going her way again.

Things had even softened between her and Fiona, and she knew her troubled friend did her best to conquer her therapy sessions. It would be a long road for her for sure, but the habits that she had picked up over the last 25 years would not disappear easily.

“I’m being reprogrammed,” Fiona was fond of saying. “My therapist suggested that I avoid dating for at least six months. Well, he said a year, but I fainted at that suggestion. “I’ve never done that!”

Jenny laughed since her life was the complete opposite. She still approached the friendship with added doses of caution, and was not ready to bounce back to the way it had been before the situation with Andrew, but she knew her heart had softened and the forgiveness process had begun.

“This dress is beautiful, Jenny,” she said taking in the soft coral gown that was simple but elegant, and almost form fitting, which was a step in the right direction. Jenny asked Fiona to help her get ready, and together they decided on simple jewelry, the one and a half carat diamond earrings her father bought her for her 21st birthday, and nothing else. Jenny even agreed to makeup, as long as she kept it soft and natural, and tucked her hair behind to antique butterfly comb that even Fiona thought was beautiful. It was to be her crowning glory.

“I know I’ll be surrounded by more women whose jewelry cold feed a small nation,” she said, “but these are the best pieces I own.”

“They’re lovely,” Fiona said. “You’ll be certain to stand out for sure that way.”

Jenny smiled. “Thanks. I think I needed to hear that. As excited I am about tonight, I’m nervous about what may happen with everything.” She had not told Andrew or Fiona about the bombshell she would drop that night, and she still worried about its impact. A little mystery was good for a relationship, she reasoned, if that is what she was beginning tonight with him. She still had her doubts about that, but she hoped, and would open herself to the opportunity. Mr. Hiller would be proud.

“Jenny, you look beautiful,” Fiona said. “Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of this.”

Jenny smiled again.

Fiona looked at her watch and shrugged. “It’s almost the bewitching hour,” she said. “I’m going to make my exit now so neither one of you feel awkward when Andrew gets here. I’m going to go upstairs and order a pizza, and try not to think about how our roles have reversed. Have a lovely time at the ball, Cinderella.”

When Andrew arrived, he looked handsome in his tuxedo. She felt proud to be on his arm, and wondered what her mother and stepsisters would think if they could see her now, with one of the most handsome and available bachelors in the city.

“You’re lovely,” he said sounding like the most beautiful music ever, and she blushed although she loved hearing it too. In her world, that did not happen and she wanted to savor the moment.

When they arrived at gala, she scoped the elegant ballroom. She did feel like she was living in a fairy tale. Her horse and carriage in reality was a taxi with a putrid smell, but as long as she was with Andrew, she did not care. They sat at the same table as Charlotte and her date, a handsome architect that was doing work on a property she was building at the Jersey Shore. The rest of the committee was sitting at the adjacent table, which she knew could get interesting, but they had not recognized her yet. The music, food, and everything else were perfect. Some women and men were dressed in colonial garb, although she had yet to see Martha Chadwick, and others were dressed in modern attire but all looked beautiful. In her mind, it resembled one of the party scenes out of “Gone with the Wind” and she was with Rhett Butler. Andrew did look handsome and dashing in his formal attire.

Cocktail hour went by, as Jenny sipped on a glass of champagne and smiled at Andrew while he chatted with some colleagues he knew from Penn. He introduced her as his date, which made her feel warm and cozy, and she thought she’d noticed a smile on his face each time he did that said she made him proud. It had been a long time since she felt this way and it pleased her.

The sound on a microphone voice brought them all to a silent attention.

“May I have your attention please,” Martha said standing up at the podium wearing the dress they had discussed in the store. “Dinner will be served in a few minutes, and I wanted to thank you all for coming to our benefit tonight. Your generous donations will all be put to good use for those who need it in our community.”

“Yes, and your Botox treatments, too,” Jenny thought.

“Tonight we have a wonderful program of dancing for you courtesy of the Jason Rankin Orchestra, and an appearance by Professor Andrew Gordon, the historian from the University of Pennsylvania. He will be here to talk about his book on Benjamin Franklin. He did bring some autographed copies that are available for sale in the lobby, and proceed will go to our DIH charities. This dress I am wearing is an authentic ball gown worn to George Washington’s inaugural ball,” Martha paused to take in the reaction of the audience. “After tonight, it will be on permanent display in our new DIH museum that will be coming soon. More on that later. But first I wanted to welcome our new members, and I understand we have our newest in the audience tonight,” she said, gazing around the room as if to look for the undercover Carrie Grant. The room buzzed with laughter. While she spoke, the masses were scrambling to their seats. Jenny began to breathe deeply to avoid a full-blown panic, and to calm her rapid heartbeat. This was her moment, it may never come again, and she had to make the best of it.

“She writes under the pen name Carrie Grant for our local neighborhood newspaper, and she’s done more for spreading the word about our causes than anyone else in our history. Maybe we can persuade Ms. Grant to come up and say a few words. Besides, aren’t we all dying to know who she is?”

Everyone laughed and began to clap, and Jenny knew the moment that could change her life forever had arrived. As the tension in the crowd built, she did not stand right away, but the applause continued. Seconds later, she turned to Andrew and whispered, “Excuse me. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Standing, with all eyes on her, the whispers began as she walked up to the podium with as much confidence as she could muster. She could not help but notice the joy on Charlotte’s face as she passed her and the look of total shock on the face of Elyse Walton. Nothing prepared her for the look on Martha Chadwick’s face when she walked up to the podium. “Thank you, Mrs. Chadwick,” she said. She wanted to call her Martha, but knew she could not pull it off.

“I’m not sure I understand,” Martha whispered to her.

“Oh, you will,” she said.

With the professional demeanor and grace, and the good wishes from Mr. Hiller, she looked out into the audience. When she directed her attention to her table, and Andrew, she was pleased to see a proud smile, or almost a little bit of a smirk on his face. That gave her even more confidence.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Jennifer Hobbs and I am proud to accept the DIH’s invitation to become a member of this great society. For years, I followed the wonderful events and fundraisers, and watched with pride as this society helped the needy in our great city. My grandmother was a member in the 1970s, and I became more acquainted with it through the board and clubs members, who became my clients and friends through Pine Street Antiques, the shop I run at 12th and Pine Street. Then a few years ago, I started writing a column for the Philadelphia Weekly under the pen name Carrie Grant to highlight all of the wonderful events sponsored by the DIH. I wanted to keep it confidential for several reasons, most of which entails being taken seriously. I am not sure I could have accomplished that with my own simple name, or without the help of my friend and editor from the Weekly. I am honored to be a part of your society, one that I applied to and was turned away from because I don’t have a lineage that connects with one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I urge the DIH board to reconsider that rule, and open the gates for all of those who want to join and help our communities. If that rule had been in place during my grandmother’s time with the DIH, the city government may look very different today. She was single-handedly responsible for sponsoring Marcus Jefferson for a DIH scholarship to Georgetown, where he graduated with honors, went on to law school, and became our city’s District Attorney.” The crowd applauded, and Jenny felt so proud that her grandmother had been a key player in the popular DA’s career. “In times like these,” she continued, “when there are so many in crises, we need all the help we can get, and no one should be turned away who has a pure heart. While I honor and understand the roots of this grand society, there are not many of us who can claim we are a direct descendent of one of our original signers, and I think our forefathers would agree. Our great leader, Martha Chadwick, for example, who is a direct descendent of Edward Rutledge understands. Like Martha, Edward was born into an aristocratic family, but he was destined for a life of public service. As a lawyer, something Mrs. Chadwick is familiar with, and a governor he supported his people and fought for them, especially the poor, and saw they were cared for.” Jenny looked at Mrs. Chadwick, who did not seem amused, but it did not stop her. “In his later years Edward was involved in an embezzlement scandal, blamed for taking money from a public service fund for his own amusement, which he fought until his death. He was innocent, and he did not want the lie to tarnish his or his family’s image so he did not give up on clearing the family name. An admirable quality, isn’t it? Making things right again to protect the honor of those we love is all we can do, and members of the DIH, because of its ties to our forefathers, can be depended upon to always do the right thing.”

Jenny watched Martha Chadwick look around the room and began to squirm. She enjoyed that moment.

“And Elyse Walton,” she continued, “another fine board member with a direct line to signer John Morton.” Jenny could not help but notice that by Elyse’s side, like a good little puppy dog, her husband sat. Knowing their history, she thought it sad to have to pretend to have a happy marriage. How hard that must be.

“John was a local from Ridley Township,” she continued. “Known for his quick intelligence and hard work ethics, Mr. Morton went on to chair the committee that penned the Articles of Confederation. After that, he also had a fine judicial career.” Jenny looked Elyse square in the face and continued. “John had a colorful family, and they were gossiped about among the elite, but to his credit, he didn’t let it bother him or his causes. He adopted the attitude that no one was perfect, and instead of stressing to hide everything about his family, he celebrated the differences, and was embraced for it. He believed at heart, as I do, that deep down we are all the same and we all want to lend a hand to those in need.”

Elyse fumed in her seat and Jenny could see it.

“John Adams and Samuel Adams, the most well-known signers, became president and a business man. Samuel’s work as a lawyer helped him prepare for the most important job of his career, becoming president of the United States, the second in line after General Washington, who we also celebrate here tonight through Martha Chadwick’s dress.”

Everyone in the auditorium began to snicker.

“Samuel was the son of a merchant, and as everyone knows a brewer of beer. Both were born into a common family but turned out to be excellent politicians because they were given a chance. They were a friend to many, and popular and visible leaders in the community, much like my dear friend Charlotte Ampstead, another committee member, who shares their lineage.”

“And, Thomas McKean, the Pennsylvania native who became a lawyer by the time he turned 20, rose among the ranks of the local politicians and came to represent an ideal study of how far political engagement can be carried out by one man. How wonderful, Mrs. McKean, or Georgia, as your friends call you, must it be to be the name sake of such a man.”

“But ladies, these men didn’t do it alone. They had friends and mentors along the way and may not have done such great things without them. Together we are stronger, which is why I again urge you to rethink the membership guidelines, as you have done for me, a new and proud member of the DIH, but one with ties to no one famous, or no one that you would know, but a willing spirit. I, the daughter of a simple working class butcher, stand here remembering what he taught me about giving back to the community and caring for those with less than me. And because I grew up with less material things than many in this room, it doesn’t make me less proud or less worthy of lending a hand to help those in need in our wonderful community.

Now, if you will allow me to close this speech as I would one of my columns. The actor once said, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant. It was fun while it lasted. Thank you.”

She could not believe her eyes. They cheered for her, standing tall to show their appreciation for her speech. Andrew and Charlotte looked proud. When she turned to see Mrs. Chadwick, still standing there that a chill ran down the length of her spine. Mrs. Chadwick clapped too, but Jenny realized she was not happy.

She walked back to her table with her head held high.

“Wonderful speech, Jenny,” Charlotte said when she sat down.

She nodded and then looked at Andrew who was still grinning. “I didn’t want to ruin the surprise,” she said.

He nodded and smiled. “I’m glad you didn’t. That was a priceless moment.” Then he took her hand in his and held it there for a long time.

While dinner was served, she kept looking over at Martha and Elyse who were shooting her daggers for most of the night. After dinner, Martha came over and whispered, “You’re through in this town.”

Jenny looked up into her face and smiled. “I only did what I believed to be right, Mrs. Chadwick, and I simply accepted your kind invitation.” Then she added, “But you will be done if you don’t watch out.”

Elyse joined the Martha at the table when most of the other guests got up. “Why would you embarrass us like that?” she snapped.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” Jenny said. “I wanted to open your eyes.”

Charlotte joined them. “Ladies, isn’t it wonderful that Jenny is now a member. I think she moved many people in this room tonight. We know that hasn’t happened in a long time.”

Martha grinned. “It won’t work, Charlotte,” she said. “Your little plot to open the door to the masses has backfired. It isn’t good for our image or our purpose.”

Charlotte smiled. “I’m not sure what you mean other than Jenny and I agree on this subject. This was a surprise to me, too. I know Jenny from the store like you do.”

Elyse was bitter. “I know you both had lunch recently and planned this entire thing.”

Martha’s eyes sliced into her and Jenny shivered. “I always wondered how you stayed open because I never saw any customers in the store,” Martha replied. “Now I know it was a cover to spy on us.”

Jenny smiled. “Do you mean to tell me you believe I set up shop and opened a business with the hopes you would come in and buy from me so I could spy on you?” Jenny laughed. “Even you’re not that self-centered Mrs. Chadwick. This all came about by accident, I assure you. Besides, your organization is on the up and up isn’t it? Why would anyone want to spy on you?”

“I’m going to put an end to this nonsense now,” Martha exclaimed. “I’m going to buy that nasty paper and put you and the editor out of business for good!”

“Martha, please,” Charlotte said.

“Oh, let me take this,” Jenny said. “Buy the paper if you want to invest in it, but if you try to damage it in any way, I’ll take my report to the police about the money you’ve been embezzling from the DIH charity. Gosh, didn’t you listen to my speech? Read between the lines, for God’s sake!” The new Jenny emerged tonight, full of confidence and wit, and she liked it.

Martha turned bright red. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Jenny grinned. “Yes you do and I have the paper trail to prove it.

Then Charlotte chimed in. “Listen, Martha, you’ve done a great job for the most part, and I’d like to see you continue with a few minor adjustments. As long as you pay back the funds, the police or anyone in this town do not need to know anything. I’m nice that way.”

Elyse looked at Martha with shock. “You stole money?” she asked in a whisper.

“I did nothing of the sort,” Martha stammered. “I took a short-term loan to move a little money around, but it was all paid back with a nice rate of interest, I must say.”

“Oh, don’t you get all high and mighty, Elyse. I’ve got some interesting stuff on you and your family,” Charlotte said. “It’s personal and not against the law as far as I know but it is not pretty. I’ll keep it to myself as long as you stay in order.”
Jenny smiled. “And Martha, even if you took it short-term it is still illegal.”

Martha and Elyse were dumbfounded and it was a beautiful thing.

“Let’s not forget my husband is an attorney, and what I did was on the up and up,” Martha said, snapping back at Jenny. “I’ve done nothing wrong, and you won’t prove that I did.”

“Perhaps that’s true, Martha, but you still wouldn’t want it known to the other members, would you?”

“I won’t be threatened,” Martha said, turning flush and looking as though she might explode.

“And if all you got on me involves my husband,” Elyse said with bitterness, “it’s old news honey. Everyone knows about him.”

Watching the pitiful scene unfold before her, she noticed Charlotte looked almost defeated. It was time to use her information, the great stuff Mr. Hiller had gathered for her.

“Wait ladies,” Jenny said. “Maybe we can come to an agreement. Mrs. Chadwick, you remember that day you were in my shop when Arthur Hiller was there?”

Martha looked at Jenny, thought for a moment, and looked like she was about to panic. There was a brief period of silence before Martha came to her senses. “There’s no reason to pursue this any further,” Martha said. “Let’s just say it’s a new age for the Daughters of the Hall. Welcome to the club, Jenny.”

Jenny smiled, and noticed the looks on Charlotte and Elyse’s faces were priceless. Martha walked away and Elyse followed after.

Charlotte looked at Jenny and laughed. “I’m not sure what you just did to her, but congratulations. I thought we had lost this battle, after all.”

Jenny smiled.

That’s when Andrew came back over to the table and smiled. “Jenny, would you like to dance?” he asked. “I have a few minutes before my speech, although I’m sure it won’t be as explosive as yours.”

She smiled. “I’d love to.”

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Thirty-Two

Hand writing in open book on table

September 25, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six,Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Chapter Thirty, Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

For the next several days, Jenny laid low, only working in the shop and working on her speech. She felt that it was her best work, and couldn’t wait until the night of the gala to see the looks on their faces when she stepped up to the podium as Carrie Grant. She wouldn’t be as cruel as some may have liked, but she’d be strong and confident, and her point would be well made.

She was more than a little surprised when Andrew came into the store that afternoon carrying his briefcase. She had purposely missed book club the night before, wondering if she’d ever be able to return. She hated to admit it, but her heart still leapt the moment she saw him.

She was cool. Her demeanor was too. “What can I do for you professor?”

He smiled. “Is that what you’re calling me now? I thought we were passed that formality.”

She offered a small smile but said nothing.

“You didn’t come to book club last night,” he said. “We missed you.”

She nodded, but avoided eye contact.

“I wanted to apologize. That must have been a horrible scene. I’m embarrassed, and I don’t want to hurt you in any way.”

“It was surprising,” she said.

“I wanted to come sooner, but I figured I would see you at book club, but you didn’t show. I do not like to admit my weakness, and I do not know what happened. She was flirting with me, and I’ll admit I enjoyed it and played along a little, but then it was like she went bonkers or something.”

Jenny sighed. “Was that before or after you asked her to the gala?”

Andrew looked confused. “I hadn’t planned on doing that, you know. In fact, I called her this morning and broke off the date. I was kind of shocked that things progressed and I panicked and asked her.”

“You’re not going to blame it all on Fiona, are you?” That would make her lose respect for him. Although he was hanging on by a thread, she did not want to lose him.

“No, but I did try to push her away. I actually thought there was something brewing between us, but then you seemed to back away. Then when I saw your reaction, I knew I was right. You sensed it too. I can see that now.”

Jenny laughed. “So, you’re blaming your actions on me now?”

Andrew shook his head and looked down for a moment in shame. ‘No, I didn’t mean that. You’re not making this easy, Jenny, and I’m not sure you have a right to be that angry.”

“You hurt my feelings,” she said boldly, surprised that those truthful words came out of her mouth. “Perhaps I don’t have a right, but I was hurt and I reacted appropriately. This is something very new to me.”

Andrew looked at her offering a calm smile. “It’s something you never get used to when the heart is involved,” he said. “And your friend is a forward young woman, Jenny. I’m not used to that, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it, either. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not interested in her. Not at all.”

“ Did you tell her that while you were kissing her?”

“ I tried. Several times in fact.”

“ You are both single. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t…”

“Jenny, I had planned to ask you to go to the DIH gala with me as my date that night. I thought it would be fun to go together, even if it was just as friends. I never expected the night to end the way it did.”

“You and me both,” she said.

“It’s not too late. Would you like to go?”

Jenny thought long and hard, and decided it was not the time to come clean with Andrew about what would happen that night. “I do think it is too late,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She hate that she added the last part, about her being sorry. He was the one that should feel that emotion.

Andrew frowned. “I’m sorry, too,” he said, saying it again, and it weakened her but still not enough to let this all go. “I like you, Jenny. I really do. I can’t believe I acted like such a buffoon. I haven’t done that since college. In any case, don’t let my stupid behavior keep you away from book club. It’s not the same without you. And I promise I won’t ask you out again, so you don’t have to worry about that.” He nodded his head and walked out the door. She wanted to stop him, but knew she should let it be. Then it hit her. Why should she be angry with him, even if he did flirt with Fiona? It may not have been the classiest thing to do, but he was single and owed her nothing. He did not even know how she felt, and Mr. Hiller’s advice to be upfront about her feelings now made more sense than ever.

She ran to the shop’s front door and opened it, calling his name. He stopped and turned, walking back to the store.

“I changed my mind,” she said. “You didn’t know that I had feelings for you, so I can’t blame you for your behavior.”

He smiled and right after he tilted his head and kissed her cheek. “Now that sounds mighty promising,” he said. “I guess I feel pretty damn lucky you are an understanding woman.”

“Don’t get used to it because I won’t ever be again,” she said. “At least not about something like that.”

# # #

After closing the shop, Jenny walked up the extra flight of steps, foregoing her own door to get to Fiona’s. She knew she was home. She saw her walk by.

With trepidation, she knocked on the door.

“Surprise,” Jenny greeted once she opened the door, yet it couldn’t really be a surprise. No one could gain entry to the building without a tenant buzzing him or her in.

“Jenny,” Fiona said softly. “I’m glad you’re here, I have something to tell you.”

“Can’t imagine what you’d have to say that I’d be interested in, Fiona.” She was there for another reason, to tell her off again, about how much she hurt her with her actions. “I think it’s time for you to listen instead.”

“I’ve started seeing a therapist,” she said ignoring her plea, “to find out what the heck is wrong with me and why I keep doing this, especially to someone I care about.”

Jenny shrugged. “Obviously you want to, Fiona. You’re the priority at all times and your behavior shows you have no regard for anyone else.”

She smiled and started to fill up with tears. “Maybe, but it’s not that simple.”

“I know you can be strong,” Jenny said. “Look at the way you handled the Doug situation. I don’t understand why you would make a play for Andrew knowing how I felt. It’s pure and simple selfishness.”

“I’m lonely, Jenny. I’m so lonely. However, I’m going to find out why I’m so horrible, I swear. I never meant to hurt you. But you might be happy to know that Andrew called me and cancelled the date.”

“Yes, he told me that.”

“And that I’ve taken a hard look back at my life. You know more of the details than anyone else does, Jenny. I never told anyone about what drove me away from home, but I know I’ve said some things through the years that you might have pieced together.”

Jenny nodded, and even though she may have wanted to offer comfort and support, she hesitated. She was still angry.

“I was a mess back then, you know,” Fiona continued, “and before you say it, I know it was my own fault. I messed with the wrong guy and his girlfriend, earned a reputation for myself, embarrassed my family, and then had an awful confrontation with a brother of one of my targets. That’s my therapist’s word for the women I’ve hurt along the way. That same night with Doug, I ran into this man from my past at work. He shouted such ugly things at me, even though it all happened more than 20 years ago. I’m the kind of girl you don’t forget for the wrong reasons.” She smiled to avoid the tears from flowing, and then shrugged. “I’m not making an excuse for what I did, but those two incidents pushed me over the edge, and I felt worse than ever before. It sounds a little crazy, but I just need a quick fix. And poor Andrew was right there so I could see a little relief in my view.”

Jenny shrugged. “I never expected to be included on your target list.”

Fiona looked like she wanted to crawl under blankets and block out the world. “Me neither,” she said. “That was the worst moment of my life. My lowest point, you know. Much worse than the horrible confrontation that night that made me realize what I had become. When I went home that night, my parents looked at me as if they knew. And I know they couldn’t have known, but then I found out that they received a letter outlining my less than perfect behavior. I couldn’t face them and I ran and never looked back.”

“And that’s when you came to Philly?” Jenny asked. “I remember you meeting with my father when you were interested in renting the apartment. You seemed damaged, yet so confident.”

“God, I was so blessed to find this place. I couldn’t have asked for better landlords, Jenny.”

“I can’t believe someone would do that to you over a high school relationship. But you have to realize what you do to others can lead to that type of behavior.”

Fiona shook her head. “He said she was traumatized by the event and took it real bad. It was a blessing I suppose since he forced me to see the truth, and you think I should thank him for that, but instead it led me down a path of destruction these past 20 years. My therapist says I repeat the same pattern over and over again because I need to feel loved, yet I choose men who I know can’t love me because I feel I don’t deserve it. How’s that for a mouthful. And after one session.”

Jenny started to soften. “I can see it haunts you, Fiona.”

“I’m haunted by a lot of the things I’ve done. You think that confrontation at the Holiday Inn all those years ago would have taught me something. But it didn’t, and every night I hold my breath waiting for a banging on my door and Doug’s wife, or the wife of any of a number of men, standing there ready for vengeance. I know it’s coming, even more than it already has,” she said admitting her weakness. “Heck, I’ve reached the bottom several times already, and the other night when you walked in, that had to be the worst because I love you, Jenny. You are a dear friend, almost my sister, and if I’m capable of doing that to a dear friend, I know I’m pathetic.”

“I’m glad you’re getting help, Fiona, because you need it. And it was pathetic. I’m not ready to forgive you yet, but give me time. Maybe I can let this pass. I’m not sure yet. However, you’re right. A good friend would never do that to another friend. A good person would never do that to anyone, either.”

“You obviously forgave Andrew if you spoke with him. And I’m sure you can forgive me.”

“It’s not that simple, Fiona, and it’s different. You knew how I felt and you were supposed to be my friend.”

Fiona looked down in shame. “Yes, I know it is. But you’ve given me hope, and I will cling to that.”

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Thirty-One

Broken heart

September 22, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six,Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Jenny couldn’t stop replaying the horrific scene in her mind over and over again. From Andrew running off like a wounded puppy, which disappointed her more than she realized, to Fiona screwing her over, she wondered if she knew these so called friends at all. She did not respect them any longer and didn’t want to be a part of their world.

Fiona had not looked over and waved when she walked past on her way to work this morning. She looked sad though, and deservedly so. Jenny had thought about evicting her to rid her from her life forever, but she couldn’t do that nor she didn’t have just cause. Making out with a man she was interested in didn’t stand much chance in a court, but in the court of public opinion, Jenny knew she could round up a posse of women who hated Fiona just as much as she did.

Getting dressed this morning seemed like more of a chore than usual. It took time to put make up on and look presentable, and she didn’t have the energy much less the will. Instead, she reverted back to her old habits, dressing in a loose sweater, skit and ballet flats. She hadn’t bothered with jewelry. Why bother? She didn’t want to be attractive to the opposite sex.

“So tell me everything,” Charlotte said bursting into the store with a huge smile. Charlotte had a hand in pushing both Andrew and Jenny together – to work on his speech for the gala, and she wanted all of the juicy updates of her current project. That was exactly how she put it, too. Between Mr. Hiller fixing her and Charlotte fixing her up with Andrew, she wondered if she ever had any positive traits at all.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing more to report,” Jenny replied. She wanted to let it all out to someone who was unbiased and get an opinion, but she knew that she would regret it if she had. “He didn’t stay long.”

It was difficult to overlook the negativity in the room. Jenny tried to cover her feelings, but Charlotte was smart. She had to know that something terrible happened, but to her credit, she acted classy and didn’t say so.

“But he did come over?”

“Yes, but it was business as usual,” she said, feeling bad about lying to the only friend she had left.

Charlotte smiled and patted Jenny’s hand. “Hey, it takes time, you know. At least he came over, and he is going to be at the benefit. That should be exciting.”

“Speaking of the benefit, have you found anything you can share?” She desperately wanted to change the subject to something that would take my mind off her current predicament.

Charlotte smiled. “Oh, you bet I have. My PI faxed this over to me this morning.” Charlotte pulled the paper out of her handbag and passed it over.

Jenny began to read the juicy gossip. What was on the page was shocking, indeed, and she wondered what Charlotte was going to do with it. It was so juicy she read it twice. “This is a great read for sure,” she said, “but it’s all personal. We can’t get them on that.”

Charlotte nodded. “It’s not against the law, you’re right about that, but I plan on having some fun with this information. And I’m saving the best for last.” She handed Jenny another piece of paper, and Jenny took it in.

“Wow,” she said after she finished reading. “I’m not sure what to say.”

“You know, Ms. Carrie Grant may want to work a little of this into her speech. Delicately, of course. It will scare them silly, and it might be a real hoot.”

Jenny nodded. “I could, she said. “It’s kind of mean, but I’m feeling mean spirited today, so why not.” Jenny realized that news like might help her avoid using the information Mr. Hiller provided. “Can I ask you something, Charlotte? Why are you doing this? What did they do to you to cause such drama?”

Charlotte looked at her new friend quizzically. “They’ve done nothing to me, but they’ve made some terrible mistakes running this organization, and they deserve to learn a lesson from it. They both need to be knocked down off of their high horse, Jenny. Don’t you agree?”

“That might be true,” Jenny continued, “but why not just confront them personally. Why embarrass them in front of a crowd of people?”

“You don’t have to mention them by name,” she said, sounding a bit annoyed. “I just think it would be a little interesting to play with them a little so they know someone else knows what they’re up to. I assure you that any confrontation of real facts will be handled privately. Be clever about it and the crowd won’t realize you’re on to them, but the ladies in question will get the message.”

Jenny nodded.

Charlotte smiled. “Good. I’ll let you strike while the iron is hot,” she said. “I’ll call you later. I have to run.”

Jenny laughed. “You always have to run.”

Charlotte ignored the comment and walked out the door leaving behind the two pieces of paper. Jenny assumed they were copies for her, and added them to the secret stash Mr. Hiller gave her that she still had not mentioned to Charlotte. The first piece read:

“Elyse Walton is trying to stop a messy divorce by black mailing her husband to stay with her. His latest charades have her running to mommy for money to pay him off, and the law for her daughter’s pot troubles, and a videographer for her other daughter’s sex charades that she wants to publish on YouTube.”

However, it was what was on the second sheet that made her shiver:

”Martha — accused of treating herself to luxury hotel stays, limousine rides, and Botox and spa treatments on the company dime. That spells extortion. See attached for proof.”

Jenny laughed nervously about all of the dishonesty around her. For years, she must have lived in a naive dream world where she did not notice all of the backstabbing and horror people pulled on each other. Now, faced with making a few small changes in her life, she became part of that world. She did not know how long this mood would last, but she almost welcomed it today. For some reason, it gave her the strength she needed to say yes to the speech she had to make, and there was no better time than now, at her lowest point yet, to start preparing it.

With one minor exception – she would do it her way.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Thirty

5991564_origSeptember 18, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six,Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

By Tuesday night, the bitter taste of Sunday’s brunch began to subside, as Jenny prepared for Andrew’s arrival. He was stopping by to go over the final details of the DIH speech he was supposed to give, and this would be the last time they’d get together before the big event.

They had been through this scenario before, but always at the coffee shop, not at Jenny’s apartment. This was more personal, she realized. Yet, she kept telling herself not to mistake kindness for interest, even though he hinted at their last meeting that they should meet to go to the film noir exhibit at the Prince Theater in June once classes ended. He was a member of the Philadelphia Film Society, and they did share the same love of old films, so she decided she would join, too.

This strange new world puzzled Jenny. How crazy were the lengths some women would go to get a man? Unlimited, she supposed, as evidenced by Charlotte’s plot to push Jenny and Andrew together, and her stepsister’s bizarre confessions the other day at brunch. Sarah was willing to marry this man, even though he may have cheated on her. That was powerful stuff that Jenny did not understand. Fiona, on the other hand, understood completely. Now that Jenny took pains to fit in with the way she looked and dressed, she worried about losing her brain in the process. She wondered if men went to such extremes, and doubted it. By nature, men and women were sexual creatures and they would always seek each other out. She was convinced women dressed for other women in the short time she made the extra effort, and not for men at all.

When her doorbell rang, she jumped, feeling excited and afraid at the same time. She even dressed for the occasion, wearing a tighter fitting dress, jewelry, and makeup. She hoped she did not look like a clown. She buzzed Andrew inside, and he walked up the stairs with his folder and brief case, looking like the classic college professor. Jenny had prepared peppermint tea the way they both liked it. They were about to sit down and exchange some pleasant conversation when someone knocked on the door.

“Excuse me,” Jenny said. “It must be my neighbor.” Jenny opened the door to Fiona, who stood there with an empty cup in her hand.

“I’m the proverbial neighbor,” Fiona said. “Can I borrow a cup of milk?” Fiona realized Jenny wasn’t alone and smiled. “I didn’t realize you had company.”

“That’s OK, come in. Fiona, this is Professor Andrews from Penn. He’s my book club leader, and he’ll be making a keynote speech at the DIH next month.”

Fiona’s eyes widened to take all in. “I didn’t know,” she whispered. “Sorry. I’ll make a quick exit.”

Jenny nodded. “Don’t be silly,” she replied, but she hoped Fiona understood she didn’t want her to stick around.

“Call me Andrew,” he said, extending his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Andrew.”

Immediately following her introduction, Jenny’s phone rang making her wonder if they would ever get on with this night. “Sorry about this, Andrew,” she said. “I’m never this busy, but you know what they say…when it rains it pours.”

Jenny answered the phone while Andrew and Fiona chatted.

This could not be happening now, she thought as she listed to a frustrated shipper shouting something about a customer refusing delivery. She knew she should pay more attention to what the angry voice said, but like a teenager in algebra class watching a cute boy, she could not think of anything but Andrew. She managed to pick up something about a damaged chair leg, and she knew she had to deal with this issue, and unfortunately it had to be now. It concerned a member of the DIH, albeit not a board member, but a customer who deserved the same courtesy. She knew this particular customer needed this chair for a dinner party over the weekend. When the conversation with the shipper ended, she hung up in a daze.

“I hope you don’t mind Andrew, but I have to run down to the store for about fifteen minutes,” she said. “Something arrived damaged and the shipper and customer are both blaming each other.” She smiled. “That’s not to say you’re not important Andrew, but…” Shut up, Jenny, she said to herself. You’re babbling.

Andrew smiled and nodded. “No problem, please do what you need to do. I’m not in a hurry.”

“I’ll keep Andrew company while you’re downstairs,” Fiona said. “I’m not in a hurry either.”

“Thanks, Fiona. I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”

Jenny ran down the stairs with her heart racing. Tonight of all nights! This was her big night, after all, the night when she decided to be brave enough to tell Andrew about the entire Carrie Grant situation and get his opinion. She raced back to the file cabinet in the office and sighed. It was a mess, she realized, and she cursed herself for not being organized. She typically was, but life had become so unexpected lately, she began to miss certain details.

After five minutes, she still couldn’t find the invoice, and the information hadn’t been entered into the computer yet, which added to the confusion. It rarely happened, but she even forgot which vendor shipped the chair. It came down to a choice of two when she finally remembered the invoice was up front under the counter. Her focus had been so off lately. She rushed to the front, and thankfully found the invoice right where she had left it, made a hurried phone call to the vendor asking for a replacement to be shipped overnight. She quickly called the customer, explained that a new chair would arrive by Thursday, and completed the task. She didn’t even notice if the customer seemed upset, but that didn’t seem important now. She wanted to get back to Andrew.

Jenny shut off the store lights and out of habit made sure the front door was locked and rushed back upstairs. She walked back into her apartment and she was greeted with an unexpected surprise. Fiona was sitting on Andrew’s lap kissing his neck, and the little tramp jumped up when she heard Jenny come in.

“Jenny, you’re back!” she stammered.

Jenny stood still, feeling a shock wave rush through her body. At a loss for words, she managed a simple, “Surprise.”

“Jenny, I’m sorry,” Andrew said, looking about as flustered as she felt. “Oh God, I’m embarrassed,” he babbled on. “I’m not sure what to say. It’s all simple really. I asked Fiona to the DIH gala, although I don’t know why, I expected to ask you tonight, and things got a little out of hand.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Jenny said while her heart broke in two. “You’re allowed to ask a woman on a date.” Those last words killed her, as she thought there was no accounting for his taste. If this is what Andrew wanted, cheap thrills after knowing someone for 10 minutes, he wasn’t the man for her.

“We should do this another time,” he said, his face flushed with either passion or embarrassment, but Jenny was sure it was passion. Fiona said nothing more as Andrew collected his things and ran to his escape. Jenny hoped she felt as cheap as she appeared.

“I will call you, Jenny,” he said. “Goodnight.”

Once he left, Jenny wondered if he was the world’s biggest snake, or he was Fiona’s innocent victim. Either way, she lost her respect for him, running like a scared child, and leaving his mess behind for her to sort out.

“Jenny, I can explain,” Fiona finally spoke. “I didn’t say I would go to the gala with him.”

“Thank God for that,” she shouted. “Instead you decided to jump on top of him. That’s sort of a mixed message, don’t you think?”

“No, not exactly. Oh, I’m sorry… so very sorry. Let me explain…”

“I think you should leave now, but please don’t forget your milk.”

“Jenny, wait, you’ve got to listen to me.”

“What could you possibly have to say, Fiona?” she snapped. “Are you going to explain why you made a play for the man I’m interested in? I can’t wait to hear this. Is it the old excuse that you can’t help who you fall in love with? That’s a classic.  Happened fast this time, although 15 minutes might not even be your record.”

Fiona’s eyes filled with tears. Jenny realized her words were harsh, but Fiona deserved them.

“I didn’t think you were interested in him anymore,” Fiona cried. “You said you weren’t going to ask him out, and you told me to find a nice, available man. That’s what I tried to do.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it, Fiona! The reason I hadn’t asked him out yet is that I wanted to spend a little more time with him first. I was hoping he’d ask me! But I still care for him, and you know I do.” She watched the tears flow down Fiona’s cheeks without any compassion. She felt nothing but hate towards this pathetic woman. “Everything everyone says about you is true, but I always gave you the benefit of the doubt. And this is how you repay me.”

Fiona said nothing, fleeing the room as fast as she could, the same as Andrew before her.

“I’m done,” Jenny said with tears welling in her eyes. “Love is not worth the pain it causes.” She meant every word realizing she had been much happier without it.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Nine

Pg-11-infidelity-RexSeptember 15, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The weather was pleasant when Jenny walked out the door and headed to her mother’s on Sunday morning. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, and the temperature felt warm, yet crisp at 55 degrees. After a few blocks of walking mostly on shaded streets, she realized it was cooler than she anticipated.

That’s exactly how she would have described her conversation with Fiona last night too – cooler than anticipated. It took almost an hour and Jenny’s best conversation skills to get her to warm up.

“Something is wrong, Fiona, but if you’re not ready to talk about it, I will leave you be,” she said after much coaxing. “I don’t like being hounded when I don’t want to talk, so I apologize for prying.”

The reverse psychology  method seemed to have done the trick. “I ran into Doug a few weeks ago,” she said, finally letting it flow.

“That must have been difficult,” Jenny said sympathetically, and not at all surprised that it involved her ex.

Fiona looked the saddest she’d ever noticed before and Jenny was sort of surprised it had this much an effect on her. “He was with another woman,” Fiona continued. “At first I thought she might be his wife, but then I found out she was his new girlfriend, the one he left his wife for.”

Jenny shrugged. “He’s an awful man, Fiona. I’m sorry.”

Fiona let out a small, uncomfortable laugh. “He is awful,” she said. “And I guess on some level I’ve always known that. When I followed him into the restaurant and confronted him…”

“You followed him?”

“I wasn’t stalking him, Jenny,” Fiona replied sounding quite annoyed. “I ran into him on the street first, accidentally.”

Jenny smiled. “Sorry,” she said.

“Well, when I followed him into the restaurant he told me that he loved her and had to leave his wife. He didn’t leave for me, but he left for her.”

So that’s why this was about. Fiona didn’t like to lose. Jenny felt certain she really couldn’t love this egomaniac. “He’s a liar, Fiona, a womanizing liar who will not be able to find happiness with anyone. I’m sure he will be cheating on his one soon enough. You are better off to be rid of him.”

Fiona shrugged. “I know you are right but it still hurts. It’s not that I think I loved him. It’s losing him. And all of those months wasted.” Wow, Fiona actually admitted it. That was a huge step for her.  If Fiona were honest, she’d have to admit she wasted her entire adult life on the wrong man, and Jenny knew it. However, it was not the time to that point up now when the wounds were still fresh.

“You know, he begged me to leave the restaurant before she came back from the ladies’ room. He told me he’d call me the next day to explain everything.”


“He never called.”

Jenny offered a kind smile. “That’s probably best for  you.”

Fiona shrugged. “What could he say that I’d want to hear anyway?”

Jenny realized that maybe Fiona really got it this time. “Fiona, this a huge step for you. I’m happy for you.”

She smiled. “I’m glad, but why do I feel like crap?”

“Because it does suck. Sometimes the best lessons are painful ones.”

Fiona looked at Jenny strangely. “What? I don’t make the rules,” Jenny said in her defense. “Now what are you going to do about it?”

Fiona laughed. “I know you want me to say find a nice available man, but that is way easier said than done. I think I need to fly solo for a while.”

Jenny walked along Chestnut Street on the to her mother’s house feeling happy. Fiona finally did the right thing, and was possibly making a change for a better life. Still, she had the feeling she wasn’t getting the full story, but it was a start. Now if she could get through brunch, all would be right with the world. It struck her that she hadn’t seen her stepsister, since the night she saw her finance with another women. Was anyone ever faithful anymore? She still did not know what to do about that, but in all reality, she did not know the circumstances. It could be innocent. It might be best to leave it alone for now.

She reached her mother’s home about twenty minutes later and received a warm greeting. It had been three weeks since they had seen each other, but even Jenny had to admit it felt nice to see her. In a stranger turn of events, it was just the women having brunch today. The men had a golf outing that was postponed from the day before when they had an appointment for their tuxedo fittings. It already felt like a different circumstance, and Jenny had to wonder if she did prefer the company of women to men. She felt much more relaxed in their company, anyway.

“Did you get my email about the change in plans for the Paris trip?” Sarah asked while nibbling on a cheese omelette.

Jenny shook her head. “I haven’t checked in a day or so,” she said. “Maybe it’s in my inbox.” Jenny had not agreed to go on the trip yet, but she had better make her mind up soon because they already thought she had. She supposed she was just going to have to suck it up and go.

Emma shrugged. “No, Sarah sent it over a week ago. No wonder we didn’t get your reply.”

“Email can be so unreliable,” her mother said. “Why didn’t you call her?”

“We lost her cell number,” Sarah said. “I suppose I should have called you, but at the time I was crazy with details and disappointed in my maid of honor choice since she refuses to help with many of the details, so I emailed.” The “we” that Sarah referred to was not she and her finance, the traditional us for son-to-be married couples, but Sarah and Emma who shared the same phone list and the same brain. Jenny sat back to enjoy the comedy show of their life and see how they could tap dance out of this one.

“In any case, the Paris trip has been moved up two weeks.” Emma walked over to her purse on cue and pulled out an envelope to hand to Jenny. “It’s a plane ticket and our itinerary. We leave the first Saturday in May.”

“It was moved so the girls could meet with their dress designer, who will be in Paris that weekend for a fashion show. What an opportunity that will be,” her mother said. “Although I like your new look, perhaps can talk to her about some more new clothes for you, Jenny.”

Jenny shook her head. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to go then,” she said. “I have something urgent going on that weekend.”

“What could be more urgent than our wedding?” Sarah asked. Then she looked at her sister. “I knew she would try to get out of this. I told you she would.”

“I’m not trying to get out of anything,” Jenny said. “Moving the date up two weeks, and then emailing me the details, isn’t very responsible. I could believe it means you don’t want me to go.”

“Jenny,” her mother said, “Of course they want you to go. And I’m sure whatever it is you have going on can be changed.”

Jenny shrugged. “And why is that, Mom? Because I have nothing important to do? You’re wrong. That weekend is the biggest night of the year for me.” Jenny didn’t want to sound so dramatic, like Sarah and Emma did when they spoke, but it was the truth.

Emma looked at her and couldn’t help but laugh. “Is it the book club’s annual spaghetti dinner or something?”

Sarah laughed at her sister’s joke. “Don’t be mean, Emma. That happens once a year, you know.”

Jenny looked at them both, thrown that they would treat her like this. She never gave them any grief, and was not even competition for them. She stayed out of their way, so this attack seemed undeserved.

“Whatever it is, Jenny, I’m sure it’s important, but you’ll have to postpone. This is family.”

Jenny looked at her mother in surprise. “I can’t do that. I’m committed.”

“You committed to us,” Sarah said.

Jenny was losing her patience now. “Why is it so important that I go to Paris with you?” she asked.

“It’s important to me because we’re family,” her mother said. “What could be more important?”

“Mom, I’m sorry. I didn’t know the date had changed. I can’t give you all of the details because they are still private, but it involves the DIH annual ball.”

“Oh, it’s top secret,” Sarah said with a laugh. “Did you join the CIA? That could be a reasonable explanation for your unexciting lifestyle. They do like to keep their agents under the radar.”

Emma laughed. “But not that under.”

“Girls, stop!” her mother cried. “There’s no need to bully her. And Jenny, surely the DIH fundraiser isn’t that important.”

“It is important,” Jenny said. “Besides, this is the bachelorette party. I will be at the wedding.”

“Yeah, until you can find an excuse to get out of that, too,” Sarah said. “I think you’re jealous of us!”

Jenny laughed. “And why would I be jealous?”

“Because you don’t have a man!” Sarah snapped.

That was the comment that put Jenny over the edge. It was her Achilles heel. “I’d rather be alone that be about to marry a man who cheats on me,” she snapped back at Sarah. She felt ashamed she stooped to her bullying game, but she had lost her ability to reason.

Sarah looked down, but it was Emma who came to her defense. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” Jenny said. “I spoke out of turn.”

“You did,” her mother said, looking shocked at the scene unfolding before her eyes.

“You shrew!” Emma said, her words snapping like the mouth of an angry alligator.

“What do mean?” Sarah asked in a surprisingly a calm voice. Jenny realized she had to tell her everything now.

“I’m sure it meant nothing,” Jenny said after her confession of seeing him on the street with another woman. “She could have been a work colleague or his sister for that matter.” This conversation seemed so familiar, then she realized it was the same lie she told Fiona a few weeks ago. They appeared too cozy to be just colleagues or family.

Emma nodded. “That would explain it. They don’t have a sister, but they are always taking business dinners with clients and…

“He’s cheated before, you know,” Sarah admitted looking into her sister’s hopeful face. “I thought it would stop now that we’re getting married.”

“And it will,” Emma said. “No need to get all upset over this minor detail.”

“Minor detail?” Jenny questioned.

“You’ve done enough!” Emma snapped.

“Look, I’m sorry I blurted it out the way I did. I felt cornered. But if he is cheating, it’s better to find out before the wedding.”

“Why is that, Jenny? So my sister can call it off and become a frustrated old maid like you. That’s not going to happen, is it Sarah?”

“Emma, why are you attacking me again?” Jenny asked.

“Because you are threatening everything I want. We’ve planned our wedding together since we were little girls, right Sarah?”

“But you don’t want to marry a man who cheats?” her mother added finally breaking her silence. She was actually the voice of reason here and Jenny was glad she spoke up.

“We don’t know that’s what was going on,” Emma said.

“But if he did cheat, you’ll…” Jenny was interrupted.

“We’re less than two months away from the wedding, and I’m marrying him,’ Sarah said. “ I’ll find out for sure what he’s doing, but the wedding is still on. I want you all to promise not to say anything about this. I will handle it.” Sarah got up and ran from the room, and Emma followed close behind. Odd, since it was usually Jenny who did the running.

After an uncomfortable silence, Jenny’s mother spoke. “I’m sorry your friend Andrew couldn’t join us today,” she said.

Jenny nodded. “He’s busy with the details of the speech he’ll give at the DIH benefit, but next time, Mom. I promise.” While she had no right promising something she probably couldn’t keep, Jenny rationalized that at least she didn’t overlook the actions of a man who cheated just so she could get married. Relationships were much more complicated that she realized.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Eight

pi dickSeptember 11, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen,Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Saturday night, and another missed weekend at the Chesapeake home.

Martha Chadwick was not happy, but she knew it was a dead issue. Her husband worked longer hours these days, and although she wished he would retire at times, she knew not to wish for that before he was ready or she would be the one to suffer.

Though the booth she sat in was comfortable, Martha squirmed and sipped a Manhattan waiting for Elyse to show. She felt restless. Patience didn’t come easy to her and she despised waiting for anyone. Martha watched the restaurant fill with couples – it was Saturday night after all – and wondered if people would think that she and Elyse were divorced, widowed, or perhaps gay. She’d wanted to try the new restaurant for months now and this became the perfect opportunity, since her husband had no interest in Ethiopian food, and Elyse would do anything Martha asked. Martha liked it that way.

Rushed and panicked like a prisoner late for his last meal, Elyse arrived at the table looking flushed. Elyse knew Martha’s strict rules of punctuality and offered a slight smile. “I’m sorry I’m late, but the traffic seems to be getting worse every day,” she stammered. “Have you been waiting long?”

Martha grinned. “Don’t worry my dear, why should tonight be different from any other event.” Martha wondered if Elyse actually liked spending time with her or she just felt obligated because she was in charge. Either way, it did not matter. Martha did not feel like spending another Saturday night alone. She enjoyed people bowing to her, and Elyse did that well.

Elyse appeared to have ignored the comment, and when the waiter came over to take her drink order, she ordered a Manhattan, too. “I’m glad you called, Martha,” she said once the waiter left their table. “I absolutely needed to get out of the house tonight. And I have the juiciest gossip for you, too.”

Martha was intrigued, but played it cool. She didn’t like others having more knowledge than she did, yet she wanted to know immediately. “Don’t keep me in suspense, my dear,” she said as coolly as she could muster. Most people would be insulted, but Elyse always took Martha’s comments in stride.

“I’ve heard from Barbara Hillcrest, the women who joined the DIH last year, that she spotted our very own Charlotte having lunch in Fairmount recently.”

Martha shrugged. “I know who Barbara Hillcrest is, and why is that gossip?”

Elyse smiled. She had an annoying way of dragging out news to make it last longer and seem more important than it actually was. Martha felt more than annoyed since she’d asked Elyse to stop doing that on a number of occasions. “It was who she was lunching with that’s the juicy part.”

Martha shrugged. “OK, I give up. Who did Charlotte have lunch with?”

“That woman who owns the antique shop.”

“Jenny Hobbs?”

“Yes, that one.”

Martha thought for a moment and then smirked. “There’s no accounting for taste, is there. If she wants to spend her time chatting with the shop girl, let her. I certainly have better ways of spending my time.”

Elyse laughed. “Exactly. What could they possibly have in common?”

“A better question, who cares?”

Elyse took a sip of the Manhattan with great hunger as soon as it arrived. “Did you have a chance to look at the menu?” She asked, picking it up. Then looking over Martha’s shoulder, she did a double take at someone and frowned. “Hey, Martha, do you know that man in the denim jacket at the bar? Don’t look now, but he’s looking this way.”

Discretely, Martha turned around for a fast glance. He did look familiar, but she did not want to start a conversation about him that might last all night. It would bore her. “I don’t think so,” she replied.

“It’s weird, but I’ve seen him in several places in the last few days. It’s almost like he’s following me.”

Once Elyse said those words, it clicked. Martha knew him, too. As Elyse said, she had seen him around in places she had visited over the last week. Was he following her, too?

“It must be just a coincidence,” Elyse said.

But Martha wondered. Perhaps he was following them. But who would follow two prominent members of the DIH board members, and why? Martha did not want to appear to panic, but her paranoia worked overtime and she realized that maybe it was over the missing funds. However, who could have discovered them since she kept the books under constant surveillance? Nevertheless, first thing Monday morning, she had to put those funds back, and then figure out how to explain the absence in the bank account to her husband. She certainly did not need it to become a legal issue, or a scandal of any kind. How embarrassing would that be? When the law firm scandal hit all those decades ago, it took forever to let the gossip die, and socially, they barely lived through it.

“Of course he’s not following me,” Elyse continued. “I’m just being paranoid again because of my prick of a husband.”

Martha grimaced. “You know I hate that word, Elyse. It’s so … common.”

Elyse nodded. “And so is he,” she said. “But I’m making strides with a possible divorce. I’ve concocted a plan to…”

As Elyse went on with her story, Martha instantly tuned out and started thinking about the man at the bar again. How interesting that she wasn’t the only board member being followed? What did Elyse have to hide? Still, it was every man or woman for himself or herself, and if she warned Elyse, she would have some explaining to do. Instead, she simply smiled and interrupted Elyse’s story. “Why would anyone be following you, my dear? Do you have anything to hide?”

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Seven

piSeptember 8, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen,Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Saturdays at the shop were usually quiet, but Jenny’s extracurricular activities lately made weekends seem just as hectic. These last few weeks sped by as she handled her regular shop duties with ease, but with the added pressure of getting ready for the big unveil. She’d been putting it off too long now. There was an acceptance speech to write, along with her next article for the newspaper, and in each she wanted to make a huge impact. When Andrew emailed to see if she could help him with notes for his speech, her tasks were easy to push aside. Everything else could wait, she told herself, as she willingly gave him whatever time he had requested. Yet she had so much to balance, she even skipped a few Sunday brunches.

Her mother had agreed to free her from the obligation because Jenny hinted of a man in the picture, casually dropping, “I’m working with Andrew on his DIH gala presentation,” and it worked wonders. She explained that Andrew was a professor at the University, and he also headed her historic book club.

“I’ve asked him to come to the gala, so it’s the least I can do for him,” she said.

Sure it was a bold exaggeration, but her mother did not need to know all of the details. Her mother tricked her into bringing Andrew to brunch soon, and although she hadn’t figured out how to get out of that obligation yet, it was the least of her worries.

It was easy to agree to help Andrew work on notes for his speech, meeting him at the coffee shop twice in the last two weeks. A bond had formed between them, no one could deny that, and it made her hope for more. Even though friendship and romance were two very different things, some of the best love stories began with couples as friends first. It struck her as humorous that she had the gall to even consider such a thing. Andrew seemed more relaxed these days, over the drama of the breakup, although he’d been a bit worried that Melissa would come to book club. Jenny realized her luck continued when they got through that night without an appearance.

Helping Andrew meant spending time with him, and she would never be sorry for that. Now faced deadlines for an article and a speech, she felt the pressure. She focused on the article first, as she sat typing swiftly in the back office downstairs. She kept the article positive, writing a glowing report of what the DIH did for the community. It didn’t seem like the right time to slam them now, before they received the big shock. She also hinted that she would attend the DIH gala after receiving an invitation from the group. She found it hard to concentrate though, reviewing everything that needed to be done in the next few weeks. Her speech was on top of that list, along with the shop’s spring inventory, a necessary chore she always dreaded.

Adding to all of the drama, she couldn’t find the underlying cause of what was bothering Fiona. Her friend wouldn’t admit to anything specific, and kept insisting she was fine, but Jenny knew better. Not that she had time to push the issue, but something was wrong. Fiona hadn’t bothered to come downstairs to chat for nearly two weeks, and even missed one of their sacred Saturday morning breakfasts.

“I’m just feeling tired,” Fiona said last night as they passed in the hall, though Jenny did not believe one word. “Spring allergies do that do me.”

Jenny looked at her with quizzical concern. “You’re forgetting I know you, Fiona. I’ve never known you to suffer from spring allergies.”

Fiona forced a smile. “Apparently, I am this year. They can hit at any time, any age, you know, and the headache is awful,” she said covering her track. “Give me a few days, Jenny. I’ll be back to my old self in no time.”

Jenny doubted that, but left her friend alone. Fiona would come clean when she was ready. “Did you find a dress online for the gala?” Jenny asked. “You haven’t mentioned anything about it.”

Fiona shook her head. “I hadn’t thought about it. Would you mind if I passed? I just don’t feel up to it.”

Jenny shook her head. “No, I wouldn’t mind. I understand.” She was disappointed, but it also renewed her fantasy of Andrew escorting her to the gala.

As Jenny pushed the send button to email the article off to the paper, she heard the front door bell chime. Walking to the front, she smiled when she saw Charlotte enter.

“Hi, Charlotte,” Jenny said. “What brings you here today?”

“Sorry to be popping in so much, but as you know we’re getting close to the gala, and I wondered how you were doing with your speech.”

“That’s a bit presumptuous since I didn’t even agree to come,” Jenny said with a sly smile.

Charlotte looked at her and grinned. “Well maybe not officially, but I figured you’d be there since your professor agreed to make a speech.

Jenny smiled. “I just filed my story to be published in Thursday’s edition of the paper. And yes, I’ve hinted that I’ll be there, so the speech is next on my list of things to do.”

Charlotte laughed. “I knew it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to reading it.”

Jenny was glad Charlotte didn’t ask to read an advanced copy. For weeks now, Charlotte kept hinting that the private investigator she’d hired found a multitude of sins committed on behalf of the DIH courtesy of its two board guilty board members. Jenny pressed for details, yet Charlotte told her she was not ready to share them yet. Jenny did the same with Mr. Hiller’s information, and now with her newspaper column. She did not want to reveal her hand before its time either, and she hoped she didn’t have to use the information about the Chadwick’s scandal at all.

“Have you found anything you can share from the investigator?” Jenny asked even though she knew what the answer would be. Still, she was curious began to wonder if the women were involved in criminal activity. It would be the only explanation that would require such secrecy.

Charlotte shook her head. “I don’t mean to be so vague, but I’m not ready to share right now,” she said again. “I know this runs deeper than what they found so far.” She shrugged. “I’m also here because I wanted to make sure I could place Carrie Grant’s name in the program.”

Jenny nodded. “I think it’s a safe bet.”

“And I know you’ve been meeting with Andrew,” Charlotte said slyly. “Do you know how much time I should allot him in the program? I’m taking it to the printer now and wanted to fill in the details.”

“It’s not a very long speech,” Jenny replied. “I’m not sure what the final timing will be, but I wouldn’t expect he’d need more than 15 minutes.”

Charlotte nodded. “Good, I’ll keep it generic then. I better run,” said with a grin. “The printer closes at four on Saturdays.”

Jenny watched Charlotte leave with her secrets, knowing she had some of her own. Mr. Hiller had asked her if she decided to use his information in a letter she received from him yesterday, and she hadn’t responded yet. She was happy to learn he had been thriving in England, visiting with old friends and relatives, and he told her to watch for a package from him coming soon. It was something she needed for the DIH gala. The gala was only two weeks away now, and she wondered what it could be. Perhaps it involved more information about Martha Chadwick.

When she closed up shop that Saturday during that last week in April, she wandered upstairs deciding she would go to brunch tomorrow because in a funny way, she actually missed everyone and that surprised her.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Six

handsome cabSeptember 4, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen,Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Fiona walked home leisurely after working a few hours later than usual. She purposely stayed to transcribe the day’s notes from the afternoon court session, a task she would typically leave until morning, but it felt safer to let the building clear before she left after yesterday’s incident. She’d let her guard down for a moment, and headed to the ladies’ room down the hall instead of using the restroom on another floor, and ran into Gilbert in the hallway during jury selection.

It wasn’t a pretty reunion, and he most assuredly remembered her. She panicked when she realized it was too late to turn back, and he began screaming obscenities her at her before she could get away. Words like whore, slut, and bit shot out of his foul mouth in anger, and she cringed with fear and embarrassment. The police had to restrain him causing a scene, and couldn’t let that happen again. It was worse a few hours later, when the police stopped by her desk to ask if she wanted to press charges against her assailant. Calling him an assailant was an understatement, and she felt a bit of relief that she came across as a random victim. Thank God no one had suspected they knew each other. The police admitted there was probably not much they could do, but they wanted to protect one of their own. She quietly declined and informed them she just wanted to forget the incident. They looked at her with sympathy, as if she was the innocent party, the weak victim, and although she believed she was, she also realized that she shared some of the guilt in this mess. That was a huge realization for her.

As she passed the City Tavern she looked at her watch. It was 8:30. Doug would dine at the City Tavern on the evenings he spent with his accountant going over the books. A little deduction told her this was about the time they’d go over his first quarter numbers, and she longed to go in and see if he was there. It was just like Doug to do it up big. He wanted to feel important and show off in front of his accountant, that she knew, and the high price of the Old City Tavern would make him appear like the big shot he pretended to be.

Quickly, she realized it was not a good idea to peek inside, although it took every bit of strength she could muster to push the thought from her mind. Now, if she could walk in with a handsome man on her arm that would be a different story. It would surely get his attention, and she would love rubbing it in his face.

The thought made her sad. There was no other man, nor the hope of one on the horizon. Her loneliness felt unbearable, and she wasn’t sure how much longer she could go on this way. Without even realizing it, she found herself opening the tavern door. She knew it would be wrong to go in, so she stood frozen in the shadow wondering what her next move would be and she backed away finding herself back on the street again.

When the taxi pulled up, the last person she expected to see exit was Doug. But it was him. At first she smiled, thinking this was really meant to be. Having them both show up at this exact time was written in the stars, she believed. Her smile quickly turned to a frown when she noticed he wasn’t alone. Nor was he with his accountant, unless she was a tall slender woman with chestnut hair and spiky high heels. But she knew his accountant, Ira Stone, a slightly overweight middle-aged man with no personality and a wife and five kids in the suburbs. This woman held on to his arm, as she wanted to, only Doug never took her to nice places like The City Tavern. They barely left her apartment. Her heart sank as she realized that she could be his wife. She did not know. She had never met the woman. She tried to hide behind the handsome cab parked nearby under the oil lit lamp-post, which was probably waiting for tourists to finish dinner. Old City was flooded with them.

Her mind raced with all sorts of possibilities, but none of them told her what to do next. Fiona wanted to run, but she couldn’t move as she watched the woman laugh and nuzzle into his body. She wanted to vomit. He looked happy, and that unnerved her. Now she knew what she had to do. That smug happy look on his face gave her no alternative. She had to go in and confront him.

She walked back up the few steps and into the restaurant sitting at the bar to get a better view of the dining room. The host had seated them in the corner table in the back, and she watched him help the woman off with her coat and kiss her cheek. She hated that he was not attentive enough to her, and now seeing this public display of affection, she was near tears. The bartender asked for her drink order, but she ignored him. She saw the woman walking away from the table, towards the ladies’ room, and she knew this might be her chance.

“Hello, Doug,” she said smugly as she walked up to his table.

“Fiona,” a surprised Doug replied standing, and nervously looking around the room. He stumbled on his words. “What are you doing here?”

“Catching you, I suppose.” Fiona tried to be calm, but inside she was crumbling and she knew she would not be able to fight the tears much longer. “Are you here with your wife?”

Doug continued to appear stunned and uneasy and she almost appreciated that. “I meant to call you, but I’ve been very busy. Actually, I tried to call last week, and I’m surprised I didn’t hear back from you. Why don’t I stop by tomorrow after work and we’ll talk.”

“Why wait? let’s talk now,” she said moving her head back and forth in a motion that said she had total control. “I’d like to meet the woman who threatened to kill me.”

Doug sighed and began to clear his throat. He was nervous, fidgeting with his tie to make sure it was straight. “We’re getting a divorce,” he whispered softly. “I’m not with my wife.”

As the world collapsed around her, she wanted to cry out in pain. She didn’t think it was possible that he could hurt her more than he already had. “I thought she wanted to work things out,” she said, feeling closer to losing control.

“We tried,” he said continuing to speak softly so no one would overhear. “Can’t you just be happy that I found someone else to love?”

Fiona looked at him with tears in her eyes, and suddenly her strength had disappeared. What had she ever seen in him? He wasn’t really handsome, but she told herself he was, and he treated her horribly. Why did she still want him? “I thought you loved me, Doug. You said you did and you were supposed to leave your wife for me. Not for another woman.”

“Don’t do this now,” he begged. “I promise I will stop by tomorrow and I’ll explain.”

“But what about your business?”

“It was my wife who wanted the divorce so it’s not a problem. Please, Fiona. I haven’t been this happy in a long time, and I haven’t had a chance to tell Carol about my indiscretion.”

“Is that what I was to you?” Fiona’s bottom lip began to tremble and she could not swallow. She may have been crying already, she did not know, but hearing that he had not been this happy in a long time was too much to handle. It shattered everything she believed they had together.

The patrons in the restaurant were starting to stare, and it hit her at that exact moment that Jenny was right. Her life had not changed since high school. Today had proved that by slamming her with cold hard facts. First the confrontation with Gilbert Crawley, and now with Doug. She was bound to continue to repeat the same pathetic patterns until she did something drastic. Her family told her exactly that, as they nagged her about her lifestyle, and how it embarrassed them. They told her she would pay for what she did to people and she hated that they were right.

She turned and walked away slowly, her heart broken. Nothing else needed to be said. The self-loathing she felt was powerful, making her want to run in shame, and giving her the strength to walk out of the restaurant. She felt naked, as if the entire restaurant had been laughing at the pathetic woman in front of them. Fiona wanted to flee far from Philadelphia, just like she did that dreadful night her family confronted her after receiving Gilbert Crawley’s letter. However, she couldn’t, and she knew it.

Outside, she let the tears flow freely, shaken to the core, but finding strength in realizing what she had to do. If she were to ever have any self-respect again and forgive herself for the past 25 years, it had to be done now.

Daughters of the Hall – Chapter Twenty-Five

2265098258_144895504c_oSeptember 1, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four, Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen,Chapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

The chilly evening air deceived her, making it feel like February instead of the end of March. Spring had arrived, but winter wanted to hang on a little while longer. She walked along the streets the few blocks to the coffee shop shivering, but in a good mood. A little nervous, perhaps but also excited about seeing Andrew and bringing up the DIH gala, but happy just the same.  If she were braver, she’d ask him to attend the gala with her, but the idea that he could attended as a featured author was a perfectly safe way to get him there.

When she reached the coffee shop, she glanced in the large window that faced the street and noticed that Andrew had already arrived. He sat in the back, seeping his tea bag in the hot water, with another placed cup placed in front of the chair across from him. Could he be with someone? Maybe Melissa? Perhaps she was in the ladies’ room. Jenny wanted to turn and run, but he spotted her and smiled. Too late. She had to go in. She proceeded slowly, feeling a range of emotions as she walked up to his table.

“I took a chance and ordered you a peppermint tea,” he said, pointing to the steaming cup. “I thought that’s what you had last time.”

She smiled and relaxed, realizing her paranoia turned out to be thoughtfulness on his part. “Peppermint tea is perfect,” she said. “Thank you.” Jenny unbuttoned her coat and sat across from him. He looked handsome in his navy blue sweater and khaki trousers.

“So how was the trip?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Nice, but different than I expected. You look great, by the way. I like the new hair style.”

She smiled, happy that he noticed, but wanting to focus on the task because his compliment embarrassed her a little. She noticed he described his trip as different, and he had to be referring to Melissa, or her absence.  She wondered how far she could push the issue and still seem unaware. “I am sorry to hear about you and Melissa,” she said, coming clean. That didn’t take long. She was honest to a fault. “She came to the book club last week and told me plans had changed and that you broke up.”

Andrew looked down, and she tried to gage the sadness on his face. She could see it clearly. He was hurt. “Thanks,” he said. “Yeah, that was the unexpected part. Turns out it was a business trip, after all.”

Jenny felt bad for him and had to look away from his sad face for a moment. “I shouldn’t have said anything,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m glad you did. I was unsure how to handle the situation, and I’m somewhat surprised she showed up at the book club. I expected that I had seen the last of her.”

“Maybe you have,” Jenny said, her honesty continuing. “She seemed a little upset and left the club at break.”

Andrew looked puzzled. “I’m not sure why she would be upset. What did she say?”

Jenny shrugged and picked up her cup to warm her hands. Somehow it seemed chillier in the shop than outside in the cool night air. It must have been her nerves. “Just that you broke up, and she was surprised by it, that’s all.”

Andrew let out a small, nervous laugh. “She was surprised? That’s funny. She broke up with me on the way to the airport the night before our flight.”

That was surprising news. Jenny had assumed Andrew broke up with Melissa. Andrew’s face told her all she needed to know though.  He was angry and hurt, and possibly, he wanted her back. “The book club discussion went well,” she said, feeling the need to change the subject — quick. “It’s obviously the club enjoys and respects your work. You’re very talented, you know. You should write more.” Yikes, maybe she was pouring it on a little thick, but she wanted to see him smile again.

“You know, that irks me to no end,” he said, not ready to let the conversation go. “She gives me an ultimatum that we need to be engaged by June or she’ll break up with me, and she acts like I broke her heart.”

Jenny stared straight ahead, feeling odd and at loss for words. Why did she tell him she knew they broke up? This wasn’t the conversation she wanted to have tonight.

“I told her I couldn’t commit to that kind of a timeline and that we hadn’t been dating that long, anyway.” He continued without needing a response. “I should have said I would think about it, but that would have been dishonest. We broke up in the cab right there. Then she calls me later begging me for another chance and telling me she’ll forgo the ultimatum. However, it was too late. It was out there and I didn’t think I could be with someone who would act so irrationally. And I told her that.”

Jenny sat still, listening to the half-crazed confession of the unraveling of their relationship. She should have been thrilled, but she wasn’t because Andrew seemed upset. He still had unresolved feelings for Melissa, which meant he wasn’t ready for another relationship. “Maybe it’s not too late,” she said making it feel as though she stabbed herself in the heart.

“I am sorry to unload that all on you,” he said, looking down. “I’m a bit embarrassed, Jenny. You didn’t come here tonight to listen to me ramble.”

She smiled. “It’s fine, Andrew. You needed to talk about it, and I don’t mind listening.” She took in his dark brown eyes and got lost in them. She wanted to reach over and take his hand, and even kiss him, and for a moment, she had the feeling he wanted that, too. He looked at her in that special way, she felt it for sure, but then he pulled away. “No harm done,” he said. “So, how did the book chat go?”

He switched gears so suddenly, and she went with the flow even though she had already told him it went well. “We had some good discussions, and I took some notes,” she said getting an envelope out of her pocket. “I think you would have been happy.”

He smiled a different kind of smile, one that didn’t seem warm like his others, but cool as she returned to being his pupil rather than his friend. “No doubt you did a great job,” he said. “You have a wonderful grasp of the material.”

Jenny felt uncomfortable, and wanted to get that warm feeling back from him. Right now seemed to be the perfect time to change the subject and talk about the DIH gala. She took a deep breath and let it go. “Are you familiar with the DIH?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said.

She smiled. “They are having their spring fund raiser in May. A friend of mine is organizing the event and your name came up as a possible guest speaker. They thought you might want to give a speech about your book, and autograph some at the gala.”

He nodded. “That is a good idea,” he said. “I’m impressed by the work they do and would like to help. When is it? I’ll check my schedule.”

“The first Saturday in May. Would that work?” She held her breath for a moment, hoping she would say yes.

“It’s near the end of the term, but it should be fine,” he said. “You can tell your friend to pencil me in and to give me a call with the details.”

Jenny smiled. “I’ll do that. Thank you, Andrew. And feel free to bring a date.” As soon as she said the words, she wanted to take them back, but it was too late. Not only didn’t she mean them, but he had just broken up with someone so it was if she had poured salt in both of their wounds.

He didn’t repond, which made her feel uncomfortable. At that moment, she looked out the window and saw one of her stepsister’s fiancés walking down the street looking chummy with a tall, slender brunette. He looked like he wanted to consume her, and it made Jenny even more uncomfortable. She was not sure at first which one he was but then she realized it was Roger, Sarah’s fiancé, and for the first time, she felt sorry for her stepsister.

“Is something wrong?” Andrew asked.

She looked back from the window and smiled. “I thought I just saw someone I knew.” Should she tell Sarah what she saw? The night was not going well at all. “So, tell me about England,” she replied hoping to get out of her head and back to this moment.

“It was nice. Chilly, as usual. But nice.”

“A good friend left for London earlier today. He put his house up for sale, and I’m not sure he’s coming back.”

“Wow, that’s a bold move,” Andrew said, and she felt that the warmth was back in his eyes. Moreover, she was glad.

“He’s originally from England, and his wife passed so he thought it best to return home for now. But yes, he it was a bold move nonetheless.”

“Have you ever been?”

Jenny shook her head. “I’m afraid my travels have been limited to the states.”

“There’s plenty of sites here to see,” he said. “But as an American History buff I guess I don’t have to tell you that.”

She smiled. “Niagara Falls is the most exotic place I’ve traveled to. I was six at the time. We didn’t make it to the Canadian side.”

He laughed. “You need to catch up on some traveling.”

She laughed, and for a moment forgot about her step sister’ cheating fiancé and Andrew’s sadness. “I have a passport, and I keep renewing it, so I guess I want to travel someday. There’s a possibility I’ll be traveling to Paris with my family later this spring before my step sisters’ wedding,” she said with a wide smile. Andrew had a way of making all of her troubles, even the ones concerning her stepsisters, disappear.