Margo awoke the the next morning, staring at the ceiling, wondering what sort of medieval chanting music wafted its way into her room across the scent of woodsy incense. ‘Oh Lord what Eastern Culture had Nikki adopted now’ crossed her mind as she stumbled out of bed, glancing at the clock on the bedside table. Margo looked again and stared in disbelief, as the tiny hands of the wind up clock pointed to 5:15 am.
Shrugging into a robe and quietly opening the door, Margo walked into the living room of her small apartment and tried desperately to control the sudden giggle that formed its way into her throat. In the middle of the floor, surrounded by the throw pillows from her couches and loveseat, among three burning candles with incense sticking out of each chunk of wax, sat her friend Nikki. She sat coiled into a position that looked painful, her eyes closed, and her hands were outward and open, the music chanted around her. She sensed Margo‘s presence (or finally heard her friend’s chuckle) and opened an eye. “5 more minutes” she said in an almost melodic voice and closed her eyes, continuing the rhythmic sway to the music.
Margo shook her head and wandered into the kitchen, praying there would be no goat milk or cheese curds waiting for her. As long as it did not interfere with her coffee, nobody would get hurt. She made the movements slight and concise and had a pot of coffee on to brew in less than three minutes, the comforting strains of the grinding and popping the machine made filling her kitchen, nearly as loud as the chanting coming from the living room.
The music ended and Nikki pulled herself up to a standing position. Margo watched with her mouth slightly open, at the fluidity of the motion.
“I bet the guys just melt at your feet with that one move,” Margo murmured, bringing a laugh from Nikki.
“Now that you mention it,” she said, smiling, her eyes dancing with mischief, leaning down to get a small green towel and mopped her face and neck.
“So, what are our plans today?”
“I don’t know about you, but I have a book signing at the shop.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Well it’s not Mick Jagger or Alan McCartney so I don’t know…”
Nikki gave Margo a playful swat with the hand towel from across her neck. “Paul McCartney,” Nikki corrected, “and I do read more than your basic music bio you know”. Nikki took the coffee cup offered and sat on the stool in front of the counter.
Margo patted her hand indulgently, “Of course you do sweetie” and turned to pour her own.
“Well today we have Johnathan Parker. Johnathan has compiled some of his greatest interviews in a new book, we are selling the heck out of them. He did a lovely write up in the Sunday circular introducing Richard Andrews, the seacoast writer from North Carolina.”
“Well, I’ve heard of him,” Nikki said, taunting, “He writes those sniffle books like Nicholas Sparks. People are always leaving them on the planes. I have lugged several to Momma’s. She loves that sort.”
Everyone knew Nikki’s mom, Sylvia Evans was a closet romantic. She loved to read and design and her artwork, the paintings, the quilts, were staples in every family household. From the time the children were born, they had little reminders that they were involved in a legacy of sorts. The Evans clan was southern true, but their roots lay in the old country of Ireland, where you could not ever be sure if the pixie light in the woman’s eyes was happiness or annoyance.
That realization came into Margo’s head as she decided to stop chiding her friend. “Okay, so what would you like to do?”
“I can help you with that package…we should get it in the mail in case Lars decides to come home for Lexie’s birthday.”
“Good idea, you remember what I told you? It’s in the shop across from mine and I think Gail has my name already on it. Check and see if it’s ready today. That will save some grief.”
“Consider it already done then…oh and speaking of Lexie,” Nikki began, lithely jumping down from the stool and half running half hopping she went to the corner of the living room where she had stowed her bag the night before. She rummaged for a few moments then straightened with a DVD case in her hand. Reaching forward she handed the case to Margo and smiled.
“Lexie’s tennis matches from the Playoffs last summer. I know it takes me forever, but I do finally get some things done.”
Margo looked at the plain case with the DVD inside and smiled. “Well I know what we’re doing tonight,” she laughed. “But don’t let it take that long to send off Lexie’s present.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Nikki loved doing errands.
She was jogging lightly across the street toward the little antique shop, not against traffic, but rather in spite of it. No cars seemed to care if people stepped out in front of them. It was as though the world stopped and life just existed in the sweet little town of Seneca.
The musical announcement sounded a bit tinny for her taste, but quaint nonetheless. Nikki marched up to the counter and raised an eyebrow toward the skinny red head that sat on the stool with earphones in her ears, obnoxiously snapping her gum. This certainly was not the owner of the store.
“Excuse me” she said to headphones girl, who nodded and snapped her gum a few more times.
“I can hear yah,” she said, “What do you need?”
“I’m here for a friend. Margo? She is buying something from Gail?”
“Right,” said the girl, and got up from her spot on the stool and walked toward the back.
She returned a few moments later with the box, with the wrapping paper and tissue just still inside. She seemed to pause for a moment perplexed at what she should do next. Nikki could not stand it.
“How much is it?” she asked the gum snapper, reaching in her back pocket for her credit card.
“The price tag says one-hundred and fifty, but there’s no slip inside other than Margo’s name on the box...I’m not sure what to do”
Nikki bit her lip to stop herself from snapping at the girl, and presented her with her card, “Let me just pay you and I’ll handle the wrapping and everything myself.”
“Okay, I guess the receipt will be enough then,” the girl said, taking Nikki’s card.
A few minutes later Nikki was back out the door with the box, shaking her head as if to get the cobwebs out. Her disdain for the current teenage mentality almost foreshadowing her happy outlook. That would never do.
Later that evening, armed with snacks and a bottle of wine, Margo and Nikki watched the video of Lexie’s game. Twice. She watched it once straight through to see the game and her daughter’s athletic performance. Another time she watched it to indulge the inner strains of a proud mother’s heart.
The way Lexie mugged for the camera, the graceful way she walked across the courts taking her spot to serve or receive. She especially enjoyed the parts where Lexie took the camera and turned it toward the photographer. Larson. Twice Margo stopped the DVD to get a refill of wine. Each time the screen stalled with Larson’s face in the midst of a grin, or a smile, or an outright laugh. The third time Margo hit the remote however, with Larson’s face mid speak, Nikki spoke up.
“You are so busted,” she said, slightly slurring her words, glass in hand. “I know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you still have it bad for my brother.” She took the bottle up from the little table and poured the remainder in her glass. “The question is,” Nikki pointed her finger unsteadily toward Margo, “What are you going to do about it?”
Margo looked at Nikki, somewhat chagrined, but wistful.
“Watch it again?” she said hopefully.
“Bullshit-..You know… you can fool everybody else in this little corner of hell you have been living in for the past eight years, but not me. And don‘t think I didn‘t notice that the song from that little ‘present’ for Lexie was the same song y’all danced to at your wedding! You are about as over my brother as rain is dry. I love you Margo, but this has gone on long enough. This year…you tell him, or so help me, come New Year‘s…I will!” With that, she went to pass out on the couch, a light snore coming from her lips.
Nikki, bless her, seldom drank too much, and never felt the effects when she did overindulge. However, unlike many people, she spoke with her heart, and most directly, when she was under the influence. People around her had to either take it on the chin, or walk away. Margo was in her own house, so she had to bear the words and maybe even reflect on them at some point. First, she would finish watching the video, because, damn it, he did look good! She was entitled to drool over her husband, even if it was a film version.
The next morning when Margo stopped by “A Time Forgotten”, there was nobody in the main room. She heard a dreadful crash coming from the back room followed by a harsh swear. She hastily put down her pocketbook on the little table beside the cash register and made her way following the noises. She stopped short of the door to the storage area, her mouth agape at the sight of her. Gail was covered in sweat, her hair hanging in strands around her plump face. There were boxes upended and spilled everywhere as though someone had ransacked the room like one of those scenes from a detective novel. The look on Gail’s face concerned her. Fear. “What on earth happened, Gail? Can I help?”
Gail seemed surprised to have an audience and let out a little gasp. A light of recognition came into her eyes. “That music box…the one I said would be ready for you today. Have you seen it?”
“Gail, my friend Nikki picked it up yesterday and sent it.” Margo looked around at the mess and could not believe that a little musical carousel would have caused that much trouble. “You should have a receipt in yesterday’s tally.”
“It wasn’t logged correctly” Gail said sharply, “My investors are going to have a field day. As for that simp I hired, well she’s done. I cannot afford to have my books in question. Whatever,” she looked up with a surprised look in her eyes, as if forgetting the whole exchange, and impatiently asked, “do you need something? I have a lot to do today, Margo. “
The contrast between the woman she had known for years and the one standing before her was staggering. She did not know what Gail had gotten herself into, but it had made her brash and rude. Margo decided she did not want to have any part of it so she just made a small excuse of needing to check something, backing out of the room quickly. Gail didn’t even seem to notice, but was still mumbling to herself while Margo left the shop, puzzled.
She made a call to Nikki as soon as she got outside, confirming that she had sent the gift. It was Nikki that had helped to choose this year’s quotation, which was “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”--Eleanor Roosevelt. Nikki assured her that it had been sent the same day.
Margo put her cell phone away and wistfully thought back over her childhood, and sighed.
It was a blessing that Nikki had come into her life. All through her childhood she had been told when, how and what to do, and she had done so dutifully.
Coming from a family rich in Irish-Italian values, the Grenaldis were more expected to be loyal to the family. This expectation was nonnegotiable.
The family house in Savannah was only massive if you were unaware of the Kennedy-esque compound on Cape Cod.
While Margo had been an only child, she was not a silver-spooned debutante as were the other girls in her class. Oh sure, she had the debut ball at age sixteen, summers at the house in Savannah, private lessons for tennis and horseback riding as well as hours of time spent on the vast grounds of the main home in Massachusetts. Throughout her growing years she felt there was something missing, even though she seemingly had ‘everything’. It wasn’t until what her grand-father had called her rebellious stage that she discovered what it was that had been missing all her life.
Her first rebellious act had been to accept a scholarship for Literature at the University of South Carolina, rather than the expected Liberal Arts program at Amherst College.
Her second act was turning down her grand-father’s offer of off-campus housing and opted instead for the coed dorm in the middle of the campus, complete with mystery room-mate.
Her father, dubbed the rebel by her grand-parents, drove her up from Savannah at the end of that summer, tearfully leaving her off at the dorm with nothing more than a hug and a credit card in her name.
The first thing she’d done after unpacking was to set up her little coffee pot on the table beside her desk. The grinding and popping of the small machine lent calm to her even then. The first few strains of home-sickness washed over her, almost having her reach for the phone to call her mother, one never to embellish the truth, but always seemed to give off love nonetheless.
It was then that her room-mate bounded through the door. Pixie dark hair, cropped short and yet becoming, her dark eyes dancing and darting here and there, assessing her surroundings. She was dressed in a white tank top, blue shorts and black spiky heeled sandals, and she was loaded down with two boxes. Behind her two gangly boys stood carrying suitcases, garment bags and what she would discover later was an electric typewriter.
“Is that coffee?” She’d asked, indicating the nearly full glass decanter.
Margo nodded, not sure about this pint-sized fireball in front of her.
Nikki had dropped her boxes on the unmade bed on the other side of the room and crossed quickly, her hand outstretched. “I’m Nikki, and if you share that, you are my new best friend!”
Their friendship was solidified over fresh home-made Cannoli and the rich coffee sweetened with plantation sugar, something Nikki had never heard of, but loved instantly.
It was a friendship so strong that even that little thing of Margo breaking her brother’s heart hadn’t severed their bond.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A full day was over at five that evening, and there were invoices to be tallied, receipts to log, inventory to research, even cups to wash as she’d sent her assistant home after the 3 o’clock book club had disbanded. Margo knew she had a lot of work still to do, but rather opted to sit in one of the comfortable chairs in the salon area of her shop, sip a cup of tea, and just listen to the sounds of the evening begin.
As she sat, her mind wandered again to the past. There were so many wasted moments. Of course, she knew Nikki was right. However, that did not stop the fear that would lodge its way into her chest every time even the thought of contacting him entered her mind. Calling would not be right anyway. No, it would be better in person. On the other hand, would it? They had always had a rather volatile chemistry, tempered with passion and a genuine fondness of each other. They had begun dating in college, and at first, even her family did not mind. However as they saw the stars appear and the light ignite between their daughter and the kid from the south, it was clear they had no use for him. Margo, or Marguerite as they called her, defied their rules and doctrines when she and Larson planned a wedding complete with a small honeymoon right after their graduation from the University of South Carolina. Larson was graduating with his law degree, taking six months to study for the bar exam, interning at a firm in nearby Spartanburg. They wanted to begin their life together.
To be fair, her mother had been supportive, and her father even agreed to the small service, and gave them a small honeymoon.
It was her grandfather that had caused trouble, going so far as to calling Larson a red-necked ambulance chaser. Then, all at once, he stopped his tirades, and even had a few meetings with the caterers and Larson’s mother. It should have been a warning, but Margo was too in love to realize the deviousness of her grandfather’s control and power.
She rose up from the chair, a tear escaping. She had not seen any of her family for over eight years. She did not even know if they were alive. When she cut her ties, she severed them, and burned the bridges that led back. If she was to live out the remainder of her life alone, then she would do so. She felt a true forgiveness for their falling to the wishes of an angry old man. However, she did not have to forget.