The entire house was clean and decorated for this week’s festivities. All the house workers clothes were pressed so sharp that the pleats were sure to draw blood. My own skirts were starched so heavily that they didn’t need me to stand. People are already starting to trickle in; the servants are bustling trying to get everything ready for lunch. By noon, the whole house will be full of people.
I’m standing at the top of the grand staircase; light fills the room making the staircase shine and sparkle. I glide down the stairs, my slippers making a satisfying “Pat, pat” that would surely land me a good finger wagging from Anna. I am half way down the stairs when something off to the side catches my eye. Rather someone. The man from last night was standing next to the entrance to my father’s office, cigar in hand talking to our neighbor Frank Thomas. All the blood from my face drains. I turn to go back up the stairs when I hear my name being called. “Bessie! Where are you going!” my sister Jackie calls.
“I’ve forgotten something in my room; I’ll only be a minute dear Jackie” I try to keep going but in a flash she is beside me, escorting me down. If I had hoped to avoid a scene, I have failed because everyone in the foyer had their eyes on me, including the two by the office. “Bessie,” Jackie says only loud enough for me to hear, “who is that man talking to Mr. Thomas? He is very handsome don’t you think! And he is staring at you! They both are! This shade of green really becomes you with your red locks! “She starts to lead me over to them but I protest. “ Jackie, I know you mean well, but I really think I need to fetch something out of my room.” She stops then and turns towards me.
“What Bessie, what do you need to get? What is so important that you need it right now, right in this moment?” when I can’t come up with anything she continues “ OK good, now come on we are going to introduce ourselves to the handsome man over here and we are going to enjoy ourselves.” Jackie, my dearest sister was my best friend, well truly my only friend. We tell each other everything, well just about everything. She still has no idea about my pregnancy.
We stop in front of the two men and Jackie acts as if her only intention is to greet our neighbor, not to fix me up with the good-looking stranger. “:how are you today Mr. Thomas? How is everything at your estate?“Mr. Thomas throws back his head and laughs, “Oh, I was not aware that you were so interested in estate affairs Miss Weller! My ‘estate’ is going swimmingly” Mr. Thomas is somewhere in his early 20’s not too much older than Jackie is. He is a fairly good-looking man, his blonde hair, sun kissed skin, and blue eyes were a constant conversation amongst my three sisters. He is considered an absolute catch. I’m sure Jackie is in absolute heaven just to have him speaking to her, and am sure that our sisters will hear about our encounter. “Have you girls met Mr. Jarred Harrison? He is visiting while his ship is docked in the harbor. Says he should be here until the end of the week! Just in time for the party.” Mr. Harrison, who I have met, last night in fact, turns to us and give us the most heart melting how-do-you-do smile. “This is Jackie and Bessie Waller; they are the daughters of John and Joan.”
Obviously playing his part Mr. Harrison face lights up as if he did not already know this information and tells us how excited he is to meet us. “You have a beautiful home! I am actually staying here for the week. Your father has invited me to while my ship is docked and I do my running about in town. You two should see quite a bit of my face.” He says with a smile.
“Oh, I very much doubt that Mr. Harrison, for you have joined us just the right time, for with this party you should hardly see anyone’s face twice.” I say feeling pretty proud of myself
“Thrice.” He says back to me and I start to panic, I chance over at the other two and see that they are deep in conversation. He offers me his arm “How about a turnabout the room Miss Weller?” as much as I feel that I should refuse him, I would also like to get away from our neighbor so I link my arm around his and allow him to take the lead. Jackie takes a break from her shameless flirting when she notices me leaving.
“Where are you going Bess?” she asks me.
“Mr. Harrison offered to take me on a turnabout the room, and I thought I would give him a tour of our house. Don’t doddle around too much dear sister, our mother will be looking for you soon.”
Turning to Mr. Thomas, she asks, “What time is it anyway?” He tells her it is just past 10:30 “OH!” she says as if she has been punched in the stomach. “I have got to go; she is going to kill me!” Mr. Thomas and Mr. Harrison both laugh.
“Well, if you must go, then how about I join you both on the tour.”
Before Mr. Harrison can respond, I do, “oh, actually I believe I shall go with Jackie, her memory may not get her all the way to mother before she gets distracted again.” I leave before either one of them could detain me.
The rest of the morning goes by uneventfully. We eat our lunch at noon, everyone finding a place on our lawn to eat his or her picnics. Some have brought their own baskets while others take one that we have made up for them. I take a basket and start to unpack it on my quilt that I have laid out intentionally away from everyone else. It is a nice day really perfect for a picnic my basket is just about unpacked when a shadow shades me. Expecting to see my sister I look up with a grin on my face, it evaporates, however, when I see that the figure looming over me is my neighbor. “Hey they Bessie, mind if I join you?” he asks, his lips curved up in a knowing smile.
“I’d much rather you didn’t, and also much rather you stay away from my sister.” I say between gritted teeth. He grabs me by the hair at the top of my neck, pulling my head back so that I am looking up at him, “I would appreciate a little more respect.” With that, he spits on my forehead. He releases my head with a push, tossing my whole body forward. I grab the napkin from my legs and wipe the spit from my face. He starts to sit down on the quilt, but hesitates. “Oh hello Mr. Harrison, already ate your lunch?”
Mr. Harrison circles around me; he takes in my face and says, “Mr. Thomas, I seem to be seeing you everywhere today. I do believe that there was a young blonde man in a grey suit looking for you near the baskets.”
“Oh, thank you, I will go see what is going on. Thank you.” Mr. Thomas stumbles. When he leaves, he goes the opposite way of the baskets.
“Miss Weller, are you ok? Did he say something to you that upset you?”
I rip my hands from his and stand up. I’ve given up on packing my basket, someone else can do that. “Look, thank you for your concern, but I’m getting pretty tired of you just popping up in the middle of my problems. You haven’t been here for 24 hours and I have seen you too much.” I take a deep breath and dust my hands off on my dress. “Just leave me alone. Please.”
I start to stomp off by he catches me by my wrist. Locking eyes with me, he says, “If you need anything, or find yourself in trouble, you come find me. I will take your side, no matter what, ok?” and for some reason, I know he is telling the truth. I nod my head and say ok.
For the rest of night I don’t see Mr. Thomas, and no one mentions his name, so I assume that he left the party after Mr. Harrison had talked to him. The day drums on until night and many more people have shown up, all in their very best. The large house is hard to move through with all of the dresses. When night falls the house empties one as the couples start to venture into the gardens, taking strolls in the moonlight and taking advantage of the cool night breeze.
Jackie and I stroll arm in arm through the garden ourselves. We take small steps, without a destination in mind. She tells me about her eventful day, telling me about all of the new gossip she has gotten from throughout the day. Jackie has a soothing voice, listening to her talk, no matter the subject, always puts me at ease. “OH! And supposedly, there was a debt collector here today! you know the super sleazy kind with greasy slicked back hair, wrinkled clothes, and gold teeth! No one seems to know who he was looking for, but it sure was exciting!”she says, as if wrinkled clothes adds to his oddity.
“So you got to see him,” I ask her
“Well, no, not exactly, but plenty of people told me about him! So he must have truly have been here!” I shake my head and laugh. “Did anything exciting happened to you today sweet sister?” the scene from my abandoned picnic flashes to my mind. I swallow.
“No, not really, you know me, I try to stay away from any excitement!” it is true, I do try, but somehow the harder I try to avoid it, the easier it finds me. Maybe I should try to seek it out, possibly it would leave me be then. “Jackie, do you remember anything about mother when she was with child?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure.” I say honestly, “did she just get a big belly and then there was a baby?”
“I was so little, Bess, besides that, mama kept to herself so much then.” Her eyes fall to the floor. We both know why she kept to herself; it doesn’t need to be said aloud. “Why do you ask? Have Jaime and Jolie been noxious again?” she asks me
“No, I haven’t even seen them with all of the party preparations. Never mind about it. It was just something that had popped into my thoughts.” We have reached the end of the paved walkway, and decided to make one more loop before calling it a night.
“That Mr. Harrison, I think he likes you Bess.” Jackie says to me, off handily. Well as “off handily” as she could have.
“What makes you say that?” I ask
“Well, for one, he had sought me out today and was asking about you!” she turns her face to me, a grin beaming. “He does seem very sweet; he would be a good catch.”
“A good catch for me, but I’d be a tadpole of a catch for him.” I say beneath my breath, hoping just loud enough for me to hear.
I’m wrong. Jackie stops our walk and turns her body to mine, all smiles dropped. “You’re wrong Bess, you are a great catch. I know that you are not always treated as if you are one, but you are. This family treats you like you have a hunch back and spiked teeth, when you really are the beauty of the family. Any man should count himself lucky to have you.” I start to thank her for her kid words, when our mother comes up to us.
“Hello mother, would you like to take a stroll with us? Your party seems to be another hit this year!” my complement falls flat when she waves a small piece of folded up paper at me.
“It is a wonder that is a hit when I have you, Bessie Waller going behind my back trying to soil our good family name! I am not the only one that should be angry here, Jackie, you should be upset as well.” She hands the note to Jackie.
Jackie’s eyes quickly scan letter. When she has finished she looks up at me just long enough to push the letter into my hands. “Bess, I thought you better than this, if you wanted to have Mr. Thomas, you should have said something.” Jackie turned and walked back to the house, mother trailing behind her, but not before, she told me to sit out of the festivities tomorrow.
It was a note from Mr. Thomas, sent to my mother – today. The letter says that he had confided in me of his intentions to as for my sisters hand in marriage, but I had made it abundantly clear that his advance would be unwelcomed by our family, and that I suggested that his presence at all makes us uneasy. His intent of the letter was trying to find out what his wrong doings were so that he could rectify them, to get in our good graces, even if he could not have my sisters hand.
He really is the worst sort of man I hate for Jackie to be so upset at me, but the only way that I would be able to soothe her would be by telling her my secret. I cannot not do that, so I must rely on times healing powers. Being banned from the festivities comes as a sort of blessing. I am sure I will recover from that punishment. I hate having to mingle with the people from these parties. I find none of these men at all interesting, let alone marriage material, even if they would take me in my present state, to which they wouldn’t. Mr. Harrisons face floats across my mind. Well at least I shan’t have him pestering me for all of tomorrow. As the thought runs through my mind, my heart starts to ache, just a little at the thought of not seeing him. I chastise it for its disloyalty.
When I reach my bedroom, it feels as though I cannot get into my bedclothes fast enough. My body finds my bed and it feels as if they were long lost lovers, meeting once again. Once my head hits the pillow, sleep takes me most ardently.