An ominous chill raised goosebumps on her flesh. An Unlikely Arrangement. Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

“Orange juice, Peter? I squeezed it fresh this morning.”

“What? Oh yes, that would be nice, Mother.”

“Distracted, son? I expect you have the jitters.”

The gloomy, rainy day dampened Peter’s spirits. He wished for a turbulent day of storms, thunder, and lightning, reason enough to cancel the day of shopping. It didn’t go unnoticed fresh flowers adorned the breakfast table, or his brothers were gone to school. She dressed to perfection, and the glow on her face reflected real joy. His mother was on a mission, and he did not have the heart to disappoint her.

“I didn’t sleep well. Too much on my mind, so much to think about and prepare. A wife is a great responsibility.”

Elizabeth Kirby placed a hand on her son’s shoulder. “It will be fine, Peter. She is a lovely girl. There aren’t many options for women, you know. She knows it. When she weighs her choices, she will decide on you, be sure.”

He turned and looked into her soft, cornflower eyes, her face framed in hair like spun silk, and smiled. Unlike most women, Peter knew his mother’s mindset. She knew this union would be a marriage of convenience, where love played little part. He understood her need to keep the family intact and to carry on the traditions unique to the lineage of Kirby.

“Come. It’s time to go. I don’t want to keep Ruth waiting.” She grabbed her fur-lined wrap and held it out for his assistance.

Mother and son drove in silence for a few miles. The smell of rain permeated the air, a wet shopping day for sure…but she was glad to have the automobile with a part-time driver for the excursion later.

“How did your conversation go while you were alone yesterday, dear?”

Peter hesitated, clicked to Patch, and fiddled with the reins.

Should he tell her the truth or not?

“Mother, she doesn’t want to get married and did not know anything about the arrangement until last night. The Squires had not told her. I don’t know if I can do this, under the circumstances. It seems so cruel of them.”

“You can do it, Son. She took a shine to me. Give me a little time, I will convince her.” She patted his knee and smiled.

“All right, Mother. I’ll give it a little time. But, if she still has second thoughts, the deal is off, okay?”

“Yes, dear, of course.”

Peter knew Mother would work hard to make the match work, and he smiled to himself. Well, at least she had a project now. Something to occupy her time, keep her mind from the memories of her dead husband and all the loss they had suffered since his death. He didn’t mind being the focus of her attention, right now. She was the light of his life. Without her, he could not accomplish anything.

The ride continued in silence. Peter wondered if his life would turn upside down.

****

Sarah squawked all the way up the stairs, fighting the grip Ruth had on her hand.

“I don’t want to hear it, Sarah. You know those dresses are there, the letters, the jewelry. How can I live in the house all these years and never find them?” Ruth drug her into the guest room and threw open the closet door. Empty. Nothing but a few coat hangers.

“What in blazes are you doing?” Sarah jerked her hand out of Ruth’s grip.

“Where are they, Sarah? What did you do with the dresses and the jewelry?”

Didn’t you hear me, Ruth? It was a dream, your imagination. Miss Williams is your mother’s maiden name. You know that. This whole thing is playing tricks with your mind. Those letters…you read them. It was too much for you.”

Ruth dropped Sarah’s hand, weak in the knees, and collapsed on the chair next to the closet. “What … what did you say? Mother’s maiden name? Yes, I know it’s Williams.”

 ****

A light rain peppered the early morning streets of Detroit. Ruth leaned against the glass of her bedroom window and willed the morning to move along at a faster pace. She tried to put the events of last night out of her mind. The prospect of a day in town, which also included her best friend, gave her hope.

She decided on a smart blue print and a solid navy cloak to ward off the rain. The reflection in the mirror revealed a spot on the front lapel. “Oh, no, I can’t wear it like this.” She opened the door and called for Sarah.

“I can get it out. It will take a bit of a soak, though,” Sarah declared.

Ruth stamped her foot. “I don’t have time, Sarah. Mrs. Kirby will arrive in a few minutes.”

“I remember a smart, gray cloak in your mother’s closet, Ruthie. Why don’t you use it today? It will compliment your dress just fine. I think it’s a bit thicker, too. Better to fend off the rain. I’ll go fetch it.”

Ruth reached out to stop the housekeeper. “Wait, I can get it Sarah. You need to be downstairs when the Kirby’s arrive.”

“Well…I don’t know, Ruthie. You know your mother wouldn’t want you in her room, and after the episode last night, I think it’s not a good idea.”

“You agreed, Sarah. The whole story…and I agreed to keep silent about Mother. Until they come back, I have free rein in this house. By the look of it, I will not live here much longer, and I do not want my last days to be behind a locked door. I’ll fetch the cloak. I will only be a moment. Mother will never know.”

“See that ya are, then. I’ll be downstairs.”

The same lilac scent lingered, the glass doorknob still glittered from the light in the window, and beckoned her to enter the forbidden closet. She crossed the room slowly, hesitant to enter, afraid of what she would find. She groped around for the dangling string attached to the lone bulb in the ceiling. Once illuminated, the closet took on a more normal atmosphere. The solemn dresses whispered as her shoulders brushed past, and an ominous chill raised goose bumps on her flesh.

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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