Was she falling in love in spite of herself? An Unlikely Arrangement.

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Chapter 8

“How do I look, Ruthie? Do I look like a woman of the world, a matron of sophistication?” Ginny whirled around in her newly purchased dress.

“You look fine, Ginny, stop preening. One might think you are the one to marry,” Ruth replied.

“Oh gosh, I wish it were me. He is so handsome. I can’t believe you are not completely head over heels,” Ginny exclaimed.

“Oh hush. Here’s the car for us. Will you please act as if you have some sense?”

“What’s happened, Ruth? You use to be the first to slap aside propriety. Gone from girl to matron in one day? Come on; go along for the ride at least. You’re not getting married tonight, after all.”

Ruth rode in silence to Peter’s house, nerves twisting knots in her stomach.

I will not eat a bite I am sure.

Maybe she had changed in just a day. Meeting Peter’s mother calmed her a bit.

I wish Mother were more like Mrs. Kirby. Mother is so drab, so plain; it’s hard for me to imagine her as a girl—ever.  

Thoughts of her mother brought to mind the drab dresses in the forbidden closet…and the ball gowns on the other side—and of course, the letters.

I must go back and get them. She shook her head. I absolutely cannot think of those bizarre events this evening.

 On one hand, terror gripped her, on the other, curiosity. While she took to Mrs. Kirby right away, the thought of being maneuvered into marriage left a bad taste in her mouth. The setting of this evening would determine her acceptance of the relationship with Peter Kirby.

The car continued to move toward the outskirts of Detroit proper.

“They must live in the country,” she whispered to her friend. “I guess I hadn’t thought about where he lived.”

“Ooh, a country estate. How exciting,” Ginny replied.

“I hardly think he owns an estate. He is a milkman, after all. I only hope it’s not a run down old shack.”

The car turned down a country lane and pulled in front of a cottage style dwelling. A white picket fence, a lovely tree-lined driveway, and empty, but well-groomed flowerbeds adorned the front of the house. Sturdy shrubs softened the stark winter landscape.

She began to relax. Although it was not the stately form of her house in the city, it had a warm, tranquil atmosphere. Fleecy, white snow softened the lack of color, dressed the trees branches, and blanketed the lawn like a down comforter.

Ginny pointed towards the house. “Look, it’s such a lovely cottage. You could have horses out here, and dogs. Your mother would never let you have a pet in the city,” she cried.

In a low voice she replied, “It is beautiful. Look at all the flowerbeds and trees. I can just imagine the beauty in the spring time.”

The minute the car slowed to a stop, two boys bounded from the house. “It’s her! It’s Peter’s new wife. Hello, Hello.”

“Well, hello indeed,” Ruth answered as she exited the automobile. “Now, which one of you is Charlie, and which one is Joseph?”

“I’m Charlie, that one is Joseph,” answered the tallest boy.

“Pleased to meet you, Charlie. I’m Ruth.”

“We know. We know. Peter told us all about you. You are as beautiful as he says,” answered the youngest.

She knew a blush rushed to her cheeks. So, he has told his brothers all about me… that I’m beautiful.

“Who’s this one?” asked Charlie. “Is she a wife for me?”

“Heavens, no, this is Ginny, my very best friend. She has come as a sort of chaperone, tonight. Ginny, this is Charlie, and this one over here is Joseph.”

Ginny bent to shake hands when a call from the porch interrupted them.

“Boys, enough, it’s not polite to bombard two young women like that. Let them get into the house.”

The voice was Elizabeth’s. She wiped her hands on a towel, and untied her white ruffle apron. Dressed in a beige coatdress, not too fancy, not too plain, she looked radiant. Her hair was up in a becoming French twist, and the glow on her face showed pure happiness at the prospect of her company.

The two boys took a hand of each of the girls and pulled them toward the front door. Laughing, they all stumbled into the house, out of breath.

“Now boys, you know the tasks I have set out for you once our guests arrived. I suggest you get to them.” One hand on her hip, she patted the bottom of the smallest boy, and they scurried off to do her bidding.

“I am sorry, ladies. Those two keep me hopping, as you can see. They are so excited to meet you. I did not tell them about Ginny coming for fear they couldn’t contain themselves. Please won’t you sit here in the parlor?”

“Where’s Peter, Mrs. Kirby?” Ginny asked.

“He will be along, dear. He started late on his route this morning. He had some business in town,” she turned and smiled broadly at Ruth.

“Is there anything we can do to help? We are not used to being waited on, you know. We usually eat in the kitchen when our parents have guests,” Ruth stated.

“It’s time you had experience with a real dinner party then. We are not as regal as the city folks, but we certainly know how to put together a proper dinner party. You and Ginny rest, and I will see to the soup. Peter should be along any moment. I hope you are hungry. I’ve made his favorite tonight.”

“It smells wonderful. I didn’t realize I was hungry until I walked in the door. The aroma is simply mouth-watering.” Ginny flounced down on the sofa.

The girls fell silent and surveyed the parlor filled with hundreds of porcelain and ceramic figurines.

Fidgety, Ruth walked across the room to inspect a set of fragile ballerinas. She reached out her hand, but quickly pulled it back.

“Good move, Ruth. Wouldn’t you hate to break something on your first visit?” Ginny moved behind her and peered over her shoulder.

Ruth reached out again. “They are so delicate, so precise. Every detail is etched on each figure.”

“It was my father’s specialty—how he made a living. Mother could not bear to part with these after his passing. It was a very harrowing experience to pack each one and transport them. She never could have survived if one had broken on the trip.”

Ruth turned abruptly, bumping into Ginny. “Oh, Peter, you startled us. I didn’t hear you come in. We were admiring these beautiful pieces. Your father created them? He must have been talented indeed.”

“He was an extraordinary man, yes,” Peter replied.

Elizabeth appeared in the doorway. “Ah, I see you are home, son. Dinner is close to ready. Could you round up Charlie and Joseph? Make sure they wash their hands.”

“Certainly, Mother. Ladies, will you please excuse me for a moment?” He stopped to peck his mother on the cheek.

Ruth’s eyes lingered on Peter’s back, his broad shoulders and the cut of his trousers sent unfamiliar shivers through her nether regions.

Ginny poked her in the ribs, made her jump, and whispered, “Put your eyes back in their sockets, Ruth. You’re too obvious.”

Ruth, cheeks aflame, darted a look at Mrs. Kirby, who smiled like a Cheshire cat and turned back toward the kitchen.

The two young women returned to their seats and continued to peruse the room.

“Ginny, she must have a maid to clean and dust all these treasures, although, I would be surprised if she trusted anyone else with the task. I bet it takes the better part of the day to finish it.”

Ginny faced her friend square on. “Don’t try to weasel out of this one. I saw the way you looked at Peter. You showed true desire watching him walk away. You can’t lie to your best friend, Ruth.”

“Stop it, Ginny. This isn’t the time or place to discuss this. I noticed how tall he was, that’s all. I didn’t remember him being that tall, now drop it. We still have to get through dinner.”

“What ever you say, liar.” Ginny giggled and settled back in her chosen overstuffed chair.

Before long, Peter returned and offered each girl an arm. “Ready, ladies? Let me escort you to the table.”

When they entered the dining area, the two younger boys already sat in their places. They looked as if they were very used to this kind of occasion, hands folded in their laps, hair brushed to a shine. Pink cheeks announced a recent scrubbing.

Elizabeth motioned for Peter to take the head of the table and placed Ruth to his right. She took her spot on his left and Ginny to the left of her. All the women stood while Peter made the rounds to seat each one.

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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