I kind of miss Iris, especially around four o’clock.
“Jade?” she’d say, “It’s tea time!” Every single afternoon. That first day I thought I’d have to sit demurely with a crisp linen napkin draped over my knee and sip tea with my pinkie out; we’d have crumpets and an etiquette lesson.
I was wrong. Tea time meant the bar was open and Iris liked her martinis. Terence entered the parlor, executed a left turn and took his place over the bar. Instead of a formal guy in a tux, he wore flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt. He had long hair and a surfer tan.
Iris liked to take in strays, and he was trained for the perfect martini. He mixed together three items, placed exactly three ice cubes in a silver martini shaker, stirred very slowly with a glass stirrer, then strained the liquid into a chilled martini glass, added three olives, and presented it to Iris on a silver tray. She winked at him every time.
I started with beer, graduated to a sweet Dubonnet, then I found a taste for the Perfect Martini, and Terence included me in the ritual.
That’s when Iris started with the stories.
I knew that no one ever believed her stories; they were tall tales.
She accosted me on the street one day. I sat on the curb having a smoke in the Rancho Santa Fe commercial block wondering what to do with my life, which I did often. I had no idea where I was, nor was I aware that someone like me stuck out in this neighborhood. I wore my favorite cammo pants and a wife beater t-shirt, my dog tags hung from my neck. I knew I looked like a tough lesbian. My drivers’ license said I was twenty-one, but in reality I had lived eighteen very tough years.
“What are you doing out here? Do you need a ride?” This old lady looked down at me, her dark glasses, like from the ’60’s, slid down her nose.
I looked up and shielded my eyes. “What’s it to you?” A knee-jerk reaction. What does she want?
She straightened up, looked around, then directly at me, and said, “None at all, my dear, except I am a human being who happens to care about other human beings.” She had a high-pitched voice that seemed to come from the black and white TV series I used to watch. “If you want to sit here all alone and look so pitiful you’re going to get that, you know. Now. Tell me what your situation is.”
She assumed I was homeless. In fact, my car was parked right in front of me, but I saw an opportunity when it landed in my lap. She looked rich.
Want to know what Jen and the group are up to? Read on for a sneak peek of the first three novels of Heritage Art Park Series!
Pages - Coming soon
“I have some news,” I said in my most cheery voice.
“Oh, what’s that, dear?” Mother sipped some water and looked at me.
“I’m thinking about taking a house at the Art Park.”
“You’re what?” Maggie yelped.
“I’m thinking about taking a house.” I tried to stare her down, but she won.
“Jen, you’re not supposed to make any big decisions the first year. It’s not good for you.” The whine in her voice grated.
To buy some time, I popped a cherry tomato in my mouth, then tried the open-eyed, happy-to-take-in-information approach: “In what way would it not be good for me?”
“I like the idea,” Mother said, shooting darts at Maggie. “Supporting an artist is not only helpful to the center, it gives you something to do without having to exert too much energy.” She nodded approvingly. “And your name associated with the Center will be a boon.”
Maggie jumped in, “Possibly, but…”
This ought to be fun. Arthur’s voice in my head again.
“I may not simply sponsor an artist, I may run it myself.” I interrupted them, a first for me. I had to get it out, fast. I felt lightheaded, being a bit of a devil. I took a bite of salad nonchalantly.
A silence descended over the elegant table. My mother and sister looked down at their plates. My niece looked at me directly, and we locked eyes. “A needlework shop?”
“How did you know?”
“Well, you’re so good at it, and you’re good with people. I think it’s a great idea. I’ll support it. It will be perfect for stress relief.” Tricia’s eyes showed their approval, and her smile confirmed it. She was a good knitter and had become quite accomplished.
Maggie dropped her fork on her plate, making a loud ping that clattered through the room. Mother shot a look at her, not so much at her reaction, but at the possibility of cracking her precious plate, I am sure. “Well,” Maggie said, “I never thought my sister would be a shop girl.” She took a gulp of wine. “Honestly, Jen, you must be mad.” She stared me down again, and I was somewhat pleased to see a piece of something green stuck to her tooth.
Mother sat quietly and poked through her salad.
“Mimi, what do you think?” Tricia asked.
Damn. Almost home free.
Mother put her fork down with infinite patience. “I’m not entirely sure why you would want to, but I wish you luck, dear,” Mother said. “If you want to sponsor a needlework shop rather than a real artist, I understand, and I approve.”
Was she deliberately being obtuse?
I stared at my own salad, not sure what to say. “I don’t know what else to do, honestly, and this opportunity came along…” I smiled as brightly as I could.
“What do you mean, you don’t know what else to do? Do what I do, what Mother does, what you used to do. Get involved! You could get back into committee work again.” Maggie’s tone of voice made me nervous for some reason.
“I could, but…”
“But what, it’s not good enough for you any more?” Her rapid breathing and laser focus on me spoke volumes. “We do an awful lot of good, you know, supporting the infrastructure of the city. We don’t just sit around eating bonbons.” Maggie’s voice rose. She was furious, and I couldn’t figure out why.
“I know that,” I said, a bit complacently. “I’m just not sure that it’s the place for me without Arthur. I supported him more than any cause.”
“I’m sure you did, dear.” Mother stepped in while Maggie pressed her lips together, folded her napkin and placed it neatly beside her spoon. “Coffee?” and rang the silver bell by her water goblet.
Canvas - Coming soon
Stitches - Out Now!
Jen’s phone rang. “Hi, Trish…of course.” She hung up.
“Tricia says she needs to see me - she needs a favor.” Her voice sounded a little astonished, like this was not something she was used to. The last time Trisha asked her for a favor was the beginning of Jen’s shop, Stitches.
“Do you want me to go?”
The doorbell rang.
“Too late.” She grimaced. “She must have been just outside when she called.”
Jen’s nice Tricia Putnam entered the living room, along with a young man of about fourteen who trailed behind her. His face was horizontal with the floor, hidden by long greasy hair. His shoulders were hunched forward and he stared at the rug like it was a new friend.
I stayed where I was. My ears tickled.
“Tricia? So good to see you!” Jen gave her niece a huge hug. I noticed the young man stepped away from them, imperceptibly. My radar went up.
“This is Lennie,” Tricia said after waving to me. She stepped back. “Lennie needs a place to stay.” She wagged her finger first at me, then at her aunt. “I wasn’t here.” She grasped Lennie’s forearm, squeezed it, and promptly left.
“Ummm…” Jen reached over to Lennie and enveloped him in a hug.
Jen’s a hugger these days.
The word “scared” appeared in front of my eyes, followed by “angry”, “abandoned,” and “lonely.” This had happened before, like someone showing me the insides of somebody else’s inner thoughts and their true natures, but in the written word. I had grown used to it, it was something that I had had since I was a child, didn’t often use, but honored anyway. I knew when to stay away from someone or when to ignore that nagging feeling. Sometimes it was a hindrance, but this time I knew I had to pay attention.
I watched as Lennie stiffened up. His arms were at his side and his eyes glazed as he stared at the wall. My hard heart went out to him. I recognized the profile of an unloved person.
“Lennie, so nice to meet you,” Jen said as she stepped away from him.
He mumbled something.
“Can I get you anything? A coke? Milk? Cookies?”
My instincts kicked in. “For God’s sake, Jen, the poor guy’s in trouble.” I turned to him. “How can we help?”
His eyes flicked up to me, then back down to the floor. “I dunno.”
“You’re here for a reason, kid. Spill.”
“Renee!” Jen’s eyes flashed. “That’s not nice.”
“Nice? I have a feeling this kid’s had just about enough ‘nice’ as he can stand. That and all the bullshit people have been slinging his way. Maybe he just wants to be honest and talk to complete strangers. People who won’t judge.”
Which, I knew, was exactly what he wanted to hear.