The morning’s call from Sally Wagoner about the committee meeting had brought the memories flooding back. Sally was Elloree’s best friend in Oak View, but the two young women had little in common. Sally was perfectly happy to be where she was and who she was. Her husband, a partner in the law firm Wagoner, Lewis, and Broad, was the youngest member of the town council. Sally openly enjoyed the prestige his position in the community afforded her, and her life revolved comfortably around the Art League and other civic organizations. This morning she was counting on Elloree’s support for her proposal of a new club fundraiser.
Elloree picked up the phone to call Mrs. Clive and then gathered up her notes for the meeting. She took only a few minutes to review them before calling in the boys to tell them of the change in the day’s plans. Long faces met her words.
“Aw, Mom, we were going to the park after lunch. You promised,” Paul protested. He had a new boat he wanted to try out on the lake.
“Never mind. I’ll be home right after lunch. I give you my word on that. Then we’ll go. Okay? Mrs. Clive will be here any minute. Now I have to dress.”
On the way up the stairs, she heard Mrs. Clive coming through the back door into the kitchen and calling to the boys. Once upstairs in the privacy of her room, Elloree breathed a sigh of relief. She always hated to disappoint the children and especially on a Saturday. She sank down in one of the comfortable chairs by the fireplace for a moment before hurrying into her clothes.
Decorated in soft blue tones, the master bedroom suite with its plush carpet and splendid, antique furniture had a calming effect on her. She spent many of her most peaceful evenings curled in front of the marble hearth reading or sketching while Tom attended one of his many business dinners. Some of Tom and Elloree’s happiest moments, times of intimacy and hope, had been shared together in this room, but this morning, she found herself remembering those times with slight bitterness. She moved quickly to her dressing room and surveyed the contents of the long wardrobe closet that stretched the length of the wall. Although the closet was filled with fashionable clothes and racks of shoes, Elloree took only a moment to select a pair of smartly tailored, navy blue slacks and a cream-colored, silk blouse.
Tom always provided her with the latest fashions for his own sake as well as hers. An elegant dresser himself, he admired good-looking clothes. One of the first things that had attracted him to Elloree had been her style. She was a woman who always looked impeccably dressed with her own special flair. She wore simply tailored, sophisticated clothes and seldom indulged in garish prints. Although as an artist she loved bright dominant colors, on herself, she much preferred subtle shades of blue and green or, occasionally, stark black or warm navy blue. Like most women, her state of mind influenced her dress, and today was definitely a navy blue or black day.
She slipped into the blouse, chose a colorful scarf for accent, and selected some jewelry from the carved mahogany box on top of her dressing table. She stepped into a pair of matching navy shoes and reached for her suede coat. She whirled about quickly in front of the full-length mirror to check her appearance, glanced at her make-up and hair, and then hurriedly went downstairs.
Mrs. Clive’s ample matronly shape was already wrapped in an apron when Elloree hurried through the kitchen on her way to the garage. The smell of freshly baking cookies filled the air.
“Not until after lunch,” Elloree called to the boys as she headed for the back door.
“Just one, Mom, please. Right from the oven is best,” Paul protested.
“Okay, but only one,” she admonished, looking sternly at Mrs. Clive, who nodded in agreement.
“Only one?” wailed Timmy. “I like ’em best hot so the chocolate’s all melty.”
“I don’t have time to argue, boys. We’ll take some to the park with us when I get back.” The door closed behind her, and with a twinge of guilt over leaving them, she slid behind the wheel of the sleek, black Mercedes. I’ll only stay long enough to vote with Sally, she promised herself.
Always a fast driver, Elloree felt a sense of pleasure when the powerful car accelerated as she pulled out of the driveway. The light rain of the early hours had turned to a heavy mist, leaving the streets wet and slippery. As on most Saturday mornings in Oak View, the roads were mostly deserted, with only a few cars heading in the direction of the golf course. It only took Elloree a few minutes to reach the Marsh’s house on Oak Avenue. The wide street was lined with large, well-kept homes and many old, gigantic, sprawling oak trees. Many of Oak View’s wealthiest families lived in this charming, long-established section of town. Elloree pulled to the curb and stopped in front of a stately, colonial-style house surrounded by perfectly manicured, rolling, green lawns dotted with elm trees.
Several cars already lined the street, and a red Jaguar convertible pulled neatly in behind her. Glancing in the rear view mirror, Elloree smiled as she watched Jan Alexander squirm from behind the wheel and step from the car. Jan waved and called out, “I’m not the only late one this morning I see.”
The two women exchanged greetings before starting up toward the house together.
“I almost forgot completely. Without Sally’s call, I wouldn’t be here at all,” Elloree said, wishing for the second time that morning that she had not answered the telephone. Jan waited as Elloree carefully set the alarm on her car. “Can’t be too careful these days—just last week, a car was stolen right out of a driveway on Pilgrim Road,” Elloree commented before joining Jan on the wide, brick walkway lined with colorful flowers.
Jan patted her short-cropped, dark brown hair. “Cut it because of the car.” She waved toward the convertible. “It was always a stringy mess,” she said, eyeing Elloree’s honey blond, shoulder-length hair with envy.
Vivacious and plump, Jan struggled constantly to maintain her weight. As they walked, she tugged impatiently at her skirt, smoothing the fabric that bunched around her slightly bulging waistline. Even in high-heeled shoes, Jan was short, and the snug, straight line of her dress only accentuated the roundness of her figure.
“I don’t suppose you ever have to watch your diet,” she said petulantly to Elloree, tall and slender, walking beside her. “I just have to look at a pastry, and I blow up like a balloon. It wouldn’t make a difference if I dieted all year, I’d never have your long legs,” she said wistfully. Then, not waiting for a response, she continued, “I missed you at the Patterson’s last Saturday night.” Her tone was casual, but there was a question in her voice.
“Tom couldn’t make it home from his business trip in time.”
“Too bad. Aggie was in her element. You missed quite a show.” She looked over at Elloree for a reaction to her words. Then, seeing none, she said, “You know how Aggie is; she’s never forgiven Gerald or the rest of the Marshes either for that matter. As if he could help it that his family all turned out to be such poor business managers,” she scoffed.
“Yes, I suppose Aggie does resent it a bit that Gerald actually has to work for a living,” Elloree said with a laugh.
“Resent him?” Jan stopped, staring at Elloree as if she had hurled an obscenity at her. “Resent him,” she repeated. “I think she loathes him. But then Aggie would hate anyone who cut down her money tree. She’s never gotten over marrying wealthy, well-connected Gerald Marsh only to find her checkbook restricted and her social position precarious.”
Elloree felt suddenly very tired, and she wished she had gone to the park with the boys. She didn’t want to hear more about the Patterson’s party, but Jan was determined to share her newly acquired information. Hesitating on the Marsh’s front porch, she lowered her voice and leaned closer to Elloree, “Phillip Roth and Barbara are getting a divorce. It’s because of his twenty-five-year-old assistant, and Barbara is devastated. Aggie saw them together last week—the assistant and Phil, I mean. Of course, Barbara and Phil weren’t at the Patterson’s,” she confided.
“Naturally. And Aggie would be the one to spread their news. She does savor gossip like a fine wine, doesn’t she?”
Jan Alexander ignored Elloree’s touch of sarcasm. “You and Tom should have been there. Absolutely everyone asked about you, especially Aggie.”
“I can just imagine,” Elloree grimaced.
“It was a perfect dinner, catered by Juliette, of course—she always does the Patterson parties—and such a delicious dessert, strawberry cheesecake,” Jan patted her hips. “But too, too much food.”
“Sorry I missed it,” Elloree said without enthusiasm.
“I think Barbara is going to be at the meeting today. At least that’s what I heard. So I thought I should warn you—you know, about Phil and everything.”
But I hardly know Barbara, Elloree wanted to say but decided it was pointless.
Finally they were at the front door, and eager to end the conversation, Elloree rang the bell. The melodious sound of the chimes interrupted Jan’s news report.
The door immediately swung open. “Well, there you are at last,” Aggie scolded. “Do come in. The meeting had to start without you.” She took Jan Alexander’s arm. “So glad to see you, Jan. Wasn’t Saturday night a beautiful party? Simply elegant. Everyone was there,” she purred. Then to Elloree, “Too bad you missed it.”
Trim and stylish, Aggie Marsh did make a handsome appearance. She moved with a studied grace as she glided across her grand entry hall to usher in her tardy guests.
“You can put your coat in there,” she said to Elloree, gesturing toward one of the paneled doors. “I’ll just take Jan on into the garden room to the meeting.” Her perfectly made-up face hardened with dislike, and her eyes shrank into tiny glittering dots as she looked at Elloree. Then she turned abruptly away, again took Jan’s arm, and ushered her through the wide French doors into what Aggie casually called the garden room.
Elloree hesitated for a moment before following them. She stood in the middle of the stately hall’s polished marble floor beneath the ornate crystal chandelier that hung suspended from the high, molded ceiling. Elloree looked up and smiled to herself, remembering Aggie’s detailed description of the fixture’s authentic royal heritage. Although she’d actually purchased it from a Jewish antique dealer of dubious reputation, Aggie boasted it had once graced the stately chateau of a European nobleman. This morning, standing beneath the dozens of sparkling crystals, Elloree shook her head and almost laughed out loud. “Not the only phony thing in this house,” she muttered to herself as she opened the French doors at the far end of the hall and followed the other two women into the meeting.
A cascading fountain, its base decorated with alabaster cherubs and surrounded by lush potted ferns, occupied one end of Aggie’s garden room. Decorated with designer, white wicker and glass furniture arranged tastefully on an ivory paver-tile floor, the room had the cool, uninviting elegance of its owner. An aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingling with a faint scent of perfume greeted Elloree as she glanced around for Sally. Seated at the far end, Sally was already presenting her motion to the group. Relieved that she wasn’t too late to support her friend, Elloree slid into a vacant chair in time to cast her vote for Sally’s proposed new fundraiser.
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Genre - Women’s fiction
Rating – PG-13
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The author is giving away 1 soft cover books and 3 kindle books in this tour.