Claire and Lily were both insistent that Keeley join the Chamber of Commerce, telling her that it would be very beneficial for anyone wanting to do business in the area, and it would also be a great way for her to meet the other business owners in the neighborhood. She was surprised at the large turnout when she went with the sisters to the next scheduled meeting. The event was held in one of the upstairs rooms of the pub across the square from Keeley’s house, and she walked over a few minutes before 7 pm. Claire and Lily had saved a seat for her between them. It soon became apparent to Keeley that the association was very active, with the members serious about ensuring that the downtown businesses got good exposure in their attempts to attract customers.
There were a number of items on the agenda, but since there was mostly agreement among the merchants, the business items were dealt with quickly and efficiently. After the meeting ended, Claire and Lily introduced Keeley to the other members, including the pub's owner, an attractive man named Joe Waltman. Keeley had been surprised to learn that John Banks was the president of the association. He seemed equally surprised to see her at the meeting. He was polite if not exactly cordial in his greeting. “What brings you here, Ms. Kavanagh,” he asked. “Are you planning to open a business in our beautiful town?”
“Yes, I’m opening a yoga studio in a few weeks,” she answered.
He raised his eyebrows, and gave her a rather patronizing smile. “I see. I gather you’ve done a market research study to ensure there’s a need for another yoga studio.”
Keeley forced herself to smile although inside she was seething. He probably doesn’t want me to succeed because he’s offended that I walked out on him, she surmised. “I have every confidence that my studio will succeed” she said sweetly.
“I hope you’re right. Where will this studio be located?”
“Right across the square, in the Victorian house.”
His eyebrows lifted even higher. “The haunted house. How unusual. Well, I wish you good luck.”
He then moved away, pausing to exchange greetings and shake hands with several other people on his way out the door.
“How long has he been president of the Chamber?” Keeley asked Claire.
Claire shrugged. “Oh, for years, since long before Lily and I became members. John owns half the town, including the biggest car dealership and a few other businesses. His family has been in Ashton since forever. They practically started the town, at least that's the way Barbara Banks tells the story. They’re a bit snobby, but they do a lot for the town. John’s running for mayor, and rumour has it his political aspirations run a lot higher than that even.”
Well, whatever he’s running for, he’s not getting my vote, Keeley decided on the spot.
Since they were at the pub already, Keeley, Claire and Lily decided to go downstairs for a glass of wine before heading for home. The pub was about half full, mostly with the after work crowd stopping by for a beer or one of Joe’s happy hour drink specials, and then extending their stay into the early evening. All the pool tables were being utilized, and numerous conversations were being held over the clacking of pool balls, causing a fairly high level of background noise. Country and western music played in the background. Keeley was more of a blues, jazz and rock and roll fan, but the pub had a welcoming, comfortable vibe where patrons felt at home. The personable waitress remembered what she’d ordered to drink from the last time Keeley had been there, and greeted Claire and Lily like old friends, which they were.
Over drinks and appetizers, Claire and Lily filled her in on the backgrounds of the people she’d met at the Chamber of Commerce meeting. Between the two of them, Claire and Lily seemed to know everything about everybody, and they had no qualms about sharing that information with a newcomer. Keeley learned that the waitress, Carol, was a single mother of two, whose husband had left her for another woman. Since the deadbeat dad never paid his child support, she was forced to waitress part time in addition to her regular job at the bank. Her younger sister, Traci, also worked at the pub, although she wasn’t there tonight. She was a nice girl, but not as good a waitress as Carol. In Claire’s opinion, Joe only kept her on because of Carol, and because he was too soft hearted to fire her. Joe Waltman had owned the pub for about fifteen years, taking it over from his father. Like Daniel, he was a big hit with the ladies, but unlike Daniel, he actively encouraged this by flirting with all his female customers. Many women had tried to pin him down, but he was having a great time playing the field, and apparently it was a big field. He was divorced, and neither sister seemed to have approved of his former wife.
The sisters liked to gossip, Keeley thought, but they didn’t seem to be malicious in what they said, and they were interesting and informative. They were naturally curious about people, and had absolutely no problem asking questions to satisfy that curiosity. After they’d filled her in on the life stories of most of the downtown merchants, they turned their considerable skill to finding out Keeley’s life story. Not usually one to talk about herself much, especially to people she didn't know well, she was no match for the sisters interrogation skills, and soon found herself telling them her history. They were also very forthcoming about their own lives. Two years apart in age, having lost both their parents to a car accident a few years ago,and with no other siblings, the sisters were very close. They had both married young, neither marriage lasting very long or producing children. With the inheritance they received from their parent’s estate, they had bought their respective businesses, and were happy and contented with their lives. Neither woman was currently in a relationship, although Claire claimed Lily was interested in Daniel, and Lily said Claire was lusting after Joe. They each denied the other's accusation, and Keeley couldn’t be sure whether or not they were joking. When Keeley said goodnight, after a second glass of wine, and with a head full of new knowledge about the town and it’s inhabitants, she felt that the foundation of solid friendship had been laid.