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Chapter One: The Accidental Eavesdropper
The morning light shone through Zorell’s bedroom window. The sun had just come up, and as with most mornings she was up earlier, even before the rooster cackled signifying the start of the day. Today wasn’t like most days, for she had a reason to be up with the chickens. Her brother’s wedding was to take place that day, not only his wedding but the wedding of her best friend Eloise. She never thought her brother was worthy of her friend, but Eloise’s heart was set on the young man. Zorell, more than anyone else, approved of the marriage and not because their families had been close for more than a generation, but because there was real love between the two of them.
She rose out of bed and grabbed her robe off the chair that sat near her bed. She slipped it on and walked over to her mirror. Her long chestnut hair was in disarray with her curls lying wildly over her shoulder. She ran a brush through her hair just as she heard a rapping at her door. Still with the brush in her hand she stomped over to the door knowing already who was on the other side.
She opened the door holding up the brush like a weapon. The person on the other side had a shocked look on their face. There was anger in her eyes as she opened her mouth to speak.
“Devlin Dupree, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked holding onto the brush so tight her knuckles were turning white. She glared at the tall young man of twenty four years. He had the same chestnut brown hair she did, but he eyes were of a dark brown as opposed to her violet orbs.
“I was just making sure you didn’t oversleep,” he said, putting his hands in front of him in surrender.
“I never oversleep,” she said, taking the brush and making a stroke through her hair. “You, dear brother, are a different story. Eloise would never forgive you if either of us if we were late to the wedding.”
“I would never be late to my wedding,” Devlin said as he closed the door to his sister’s bedroom. “Eloise might change her mind.” Zorell saw the frightened look in her brother’s eyes and chuckled at the thought. Not a very lady-like thing to do, but she never put on the niceties where Devlin was concerned.
“Dev, look at the reality of that thought,” Zorell said as she stood in front of her mirror and continued to work on her hair. “If she hasn’t come to her senses by now she never will.”
“Zo,” he said using the shortened version of her name. “Don’t say things like that, or she just might.”
Zorell burst out laughing and then threw the brush at him. It nearly hit him, but he managed to dodge the near hit. She couldn’t stop laughing even though the horrified look on his face would not fade away. “Oh, Dev, I’m sorry,” she said, still trying to contain the laughter in her voice. “You should know my temper by now.”
“I keep forgetting that you’re not a lady,” Devlin said which brought fire into her eyes. She picked up the brush from off the floor, but he dashed out the door and closed it a second before it hit the door.
She was angry that he would say such a thing even if it was true. After all, she was raised in a house of boys, so naturally there was little chance that she was in fact a true lady, at least not the type of lady her father would approve of.
She finished dressing, putting on a morning frock. It was a simple light blue dress with a transparent white overlay. It would have been quite drab if not for the orchids embroidered on the front near the waist and at the bottom of the skirt. Eloise’s mother Loraine Freeman made it for her for her birthday the year before.
She was to be the maid of honor at the wedding, and her soon to-be sister-in-law had her dress ready and waiting at her father’s estate where the wedding was taking place. She was glad that Eloise planned the wedding the summer after her graduation from nursing school. If it had been scheduled before she may not have been able to attend much less serve as the maid of honor.
Eloise had been her best friend since they were children, and she had never let Zorell down and this was her way of paying her back for her devotion. After all the trouble she had brought her way she would owe her for the rest of her life.
She had the radio playing while she was getting dressed when her favorite song burst out of the speaker. It was a tune called After You’ve Gone. Her father hated it, so naturally she loved it. She hummed along with the music while she put on a pair of white shoes with a simple gold clasp. They were the fanciest pair she owned and she usually only wear them on Sundays, but today was a special occasion.
She was soon dressed but again her hair was a mess, so she ran a comb through it and put on some makeup. She made a point of wearing it as often as she could, especially around her father. He would often call her one of the painted ladies of the night, which made her laugh. She hadn’t even been courted by anyone in all her twenty years. She had been the attraction of several young men since her early teens, but he father forbid any interaction that would be seen as courting. He was old fashioned in every way, but it went beyond that. It seemed to her that he didn’t want her to be happy, so she made is her mission in life to shock him in any way possible.
She laughed at the notion that her father hated everyone and everything he disapproved of. His intolerance led her on the opposite path. She would accept people for who they were despite of what the outside world’s perception of them was.
After she was satisfied with the way she looked she slipped on a pair of powder blue lace gloves that matched her dress perfectly and picked up her handbag and exited her bedroom. She walked down the hallway only to bump into a hearty man wearing a dark gray suit. Damon Dupree was always dapper no matter what time of day it was.
“Good morning, Father,” she said in the most formal of manners.
He stared her up and down with his usual disapproving expression. “You don’t plan on leaving this house looking like that?”
“How I look is my business, Father,” she said and was about to walk away from him, but he blocked her way. “Let me pass.”
“Not until you go to your room and change out of that dress and wipe that paint off your face,” he said insistently but she stood defiant.
“I will not,” she said and refused to back down from him. She looked towards the stairs leading to the first floor of the house and took a step forward, but her father grabbed her gloved hand.
“You will do as you’re told,” he barked out with a look of contempt on his face.
She tried to break free, but he had a tight hold on her. “Let go of me!” she shouted. She stared him down without fear, and he suddenly released her.
“What’s going on?” Zorell heard the voice of her brother Devlin from behind her. She turned to see the concerned look in his eyes. She glanced back over towards her father who looked quite stoic.
“It’s nothing, my son,” he said and the apathetic look he held so long transformed into a smile, although a forced one. “It was just a little disagreement.”
He approached Devlin and embraced him. Zorell looked on for a moment and saw her brother glance towards her. She turned and swiftly walked down the stairs. She could no longer stomach the scene. Once she reached the bottom she ran towards the front door and grabbed her gray knit jacket off the coat rack and ran out of the house. Before she walked off the porch she heard her brother calling out her name. She ignored his call and instead ran towards his car.
Zorell entered the car determined to get away from his voice, but she realized that she didn’t have the key. She was about to exit the car, but Devlin had caught up with her by then.
“What’s wrong?” he asked but she just sat in the front driver’s seat sitting silently.
"What do you think?" she said, crossing her arms over her chest and studying the dashboard.
She saw a picture taped to the windshield, and stared at the small-sized family photo. Everyone in the picture was either laughing or smiling. She saw the image of herself at the edge of the picture, but looking at it now she only saw the forced smile on her face. Her father had his arm around Devlin, his gold boy, and Trevor who was following in their eldest brother’s footsteps. Zachary was in front smiling with pride, while she stood next to Devlin with a small space between her and her family. That was Zorell, always the outsider, the one that didn’t belong.
“You shouldn’t take it so personally,” Devlin said and opened the door to the car on the passenger’s side. “It’s not a picnic being the favorite, you know, always having to do everything just right. The way I see it you’re the lucky one.”
Zorell turned to him and gave him a strange look. “How do you see that?”
“Easy, with you there’s no pressure,” he said and then handed her the key to the car. “You don’t have to worry about pleasing him.”
“He hates me,” she said as she played with the key for a few seconds. Then she looked over at her brother who was strangely silent. “He blames me for mother’s death.”
“No he doesn’t,” Devlin said, but he didn’t sound convincing.
“Yes, he does,” Zorell said still staring at the photo. “If I had never been born, mother would still be alive.”
“That’s not your fault, Zo,” Devlin said as she started up the engine.
“Yes, it is,” she said forcefully as she backed out of the driveway and descended onto the street. She was driving faster than she should have. “I killed her, and we all know it.” Just then she swerved just missing a dog that was crossing the street.
“Slow down, sis, or let me drive,” he said and put his hand on the steering wheel. Zorell took Devlin’s advice and slowed the car down to a normal speed for a neighborhood street.
“Sorry,” she said as they were approaching the Freeman house. “I guess you want to show up to your wedding in one piece.”
“That would be nice,” he said, teasing her as he usually did in intense situations in order to lighten her mood. He gave her a crooked smile which made her laugh.
“Why don’t we get you married before anything else happens,” she said still laughing.
Of all people in the world Delvin understood her. If he hadn’t been her brother she might have married him, but since that was an impossibility she happily gave up her favorite brother to her best friend. She just hoped they wouldn’t drift apart, but in her heart she felt that they would always be close.
They both had exited the car and walked up to the house hand in hand like two carefree children. Before either of them could knock on the door Elisa, Eloise’s younger sister sung the door open and twirled around until she reached the other side of the porch singing a made up song.
The girl had just turned twelve, and she was in fact excited about her sister’s wedding. Her blonde curls were falling free down her back with the sides of her hair pinned by two rose clips. She also had on a mini white lace veil that complimented the white and pink lace flower girl dress she was wearing.
“Elisa, you better stop that before you get too dizzy,” Devlin said as he watched the girl spin around. Zorell nudged her brother with her elbow in his side. “What was that for?” he asked and all Zorell would do was give him a stern look. “I just don’t want our flower girl getting sick before the wedding.”
“I’m perfect,” Elisa said after she stopped spinning. He bright blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight. “…but El isn’t.” Devlin looked concerned, but Elisa only laughed at him. “She didn’t change her mind.” She gave a giggle at the young man. “She’s just going nuts trying to get her hair to do strange things.”
“I’ll go see to her,” Zorell said and stepped inside of the house. She looked back to see Elisa looking adoringly at her soon to be brother-in-law.
“If she did change her mind, I’d marry you,” Elsa said with a big smile on her face. She was only twelve and in reality there was no way that would happen, but she was a younger version of her big sister, the girl Devlin was hopelessly in love with.
He looked a bit flustered by the girl’s words which made Zorell laugh. She turned around and headed for the stairs. She walked up to the second floor when she ran into a young gentleman. He was dressed in a black and white tuxedo, but there was a sadness in his already dark blue eyes.
“Well, Leland, it looks like you lost your best friend,” she said, standing in front of him with her hands folded in front of her. His dark blond hair was slicked back in a natural wave. As sharp as his appearance was he didn’t look happy. “You and Devlin didn’t have a fight, I hope.”
“No, nothing like that,” he said, trying to force a smile, but Zorell wasn’t fooled. She could see how hurt and depressed he looked.
“Then let me guess what it could be,” Zorell said, but Leland turned away from her. “Did you damage that beloved car of yours.” He turned around and rolled his eyes at her. “No… then you must have had a fight with your father… again.”
“Not even close, so try again,” he said in a sarcastic tone.
“Then it can only be one thing… a girl,” she said and turned and took a few steps away. “I’m right,” she said following him. “Some young woman broke your heart.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, stopping in front of his sister’s bedroom door.
“What’s her name?” Zorell asked, but Leland remained silent. “Give me that at least.”
“Shanee,” he said and walked away. She would have run after him if Eloise hadn’t popped her blonde head out from behind her bedroom door.
*“Oh, Zorell, there you are,” she said and grabbed Zorell by the wrists. She looked to see she have several hair pins falling out of her friend’s head. “I need your help.” She saw the desperate look on her friend’s face. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t such a dire situation, and a wedding would qualify as just that.
“Alright, let’s get you fixed up for this wedding,” Zorell said as she entered the room. She led to soon-to-be bride over to the vanity mirror and prompted her to sit down while she brought some sanity back to the mess that was her hair.
“Do you want it up or down?” Zorell asked her.
“Can you just chop it all off?” she asked followed by a long desperate sigh.
Zorell gave her a smile and took to the task of removing the remaining hairpins. “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.”
“Nothing can fix this train wreck,” she said, looking like she was about to cry.
Seeing fright of her face through the reflection in the mirror Zorell felt empathy for her friend. If it was one day in a girl’s entire life that her hair should look perfect it was her wedding day.
“I look awful,” Eloise said closing her eyes tight.
It seemed she didn’t want to look at herself just then. She was in fact an extremely pretty girl with her blonde hair that settled into a natural wave. Her eyes were of an electric blue and her porcelain skin was nearly flawless. At eighteen she was nearly perfect in her looks, and she glowed that certain radiance that most young girls in love do.
“It’s impossible for you to look awful,” Zorell said as she took the last of the pins out. She picked up the brush and made gentle strokes. “You always look beautiful. In fact you’re pretty and smart enough to do anything you want, and what you want is to marry my brother. It’s one of the great mysteries I’ll never figure out.”
“Oh, yes you will,” Eloise said, giving a smile for the first time since Zorell arrived. “When you fall madly and hopelessly in love you’ll know.”
“That’s never going to happen,” Zorell said with a laugh as she finished up the first of Eloise’s side buns.
She started work on the second when she heard Eloise laugh. “Oh, yes, it will, when you least expect it.”
“That’s what everyone says, but I’m not the type,” she said and added the last pin. “How is that?”
Eloise looked up in the mirror to see Zorell’s handiwork. She gasped which worried her friend. “I love it,” Eloise said while letting out a squeal. “You are a genius.” She popped out of her chair and walked over to her bed. Draped over the top of it was her wedding dress. Her parents spared no expense for her big day and ordered the fabric from Paris months in advance.
“Your dress looks beautiful,” Zorell said, looking at the intricate detail of the exquisite garment, to the delicate lace and pearl beading that formed a flower design.
“Yes, Mother and I worked for months on it,” she said with pride, but a sadness showed in Zorell’s eyes which didn’t do unnoticed by Eloise. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s okay,” Zorell said but she couldn’t help letting a tear escape her eye. “I’ve lived without a mother my whole life, so I’m used to it.”
“Well, when your time comes I’ll be there to help you,” she said with an excited smile. Zorell didn’t want to argue the fact that she had no desire to ever get married.
“Let’s get you married first,” Zorell said and helped Eloise on with her dress. It took a while, but she finally got into it and walked over to the full length mirror to see how she looked.
“You look wonderful,” Zorell said, a genuine happy smile coming to her face. “I just fear my brother might be left speechless when he sees you.”
“Do you really think so?” Eloise asked with a hint of fear in her voice. “If he is rendered speechless then he can’t say I do, and oh… it would just ruin the wedding because we won’t be able to get married, and…”
“Calm down,” Zorell said, trying to ease down her rambling. Eloise was prone to dramatics, but it was part of her charm. Zorell was much more in control and almost always kept a level head about things. “I was only teasing. The truth is nothing is going to keep my brother from marrying you.”
“Are you sure?” Eloise asked, still having fear in her eyes. “I’ve been having this dream that something was going to happen to stop the wedding.”
“El, don’t worry,” Zorell said and embraced her friend. “I will personally make sure no one, and I mean no one ruins your wedding.”
After they parted Eloise looked relieved. “Are you sure?” she asked and Zorell could see she was still worried.
“Of course I am,” she said and took her friend’s hand. “You see, I’m determined to have you for a sister-in-law.”
They both laughed just as someone came into the room. Eloise gasped while Zorell stood in front of her just in case it was her eager brother. Eloise was the superstitious type and would see it as a bad omen if Devlin were to see her in her dress before the ceremony.
“Well, hello, girls,” a woman’s voice came out. Zorell was relieved that it was only Eloise’s mother Loraine. She quickly closed the door and looked upon the girls.
“Don’t worry,” she said and waved her hands around. If Eloise got her dramatic from somewhere it was her mother. “Our groom will not see you.” Loraine’s words gave her daughter a sense of relief. “Now, let me see that dress.”
Eloise gave a twirl, and her mother gave her a look of pride. “So, does it look alright?”
“You’re a vision,” Loraine Freeman said and came over and embraced her. “I have the finishing touch to make it perfect. Zorell noticed that the older woman was holding a long velvet box and handed it to Eloise.
Zorell stood and watched with anticipation while Eloise opened the box. Inside laid a beautiful cameo necklace surrounded by pearls held together by a roped gold chain.
“This belonged to your great grandmother, and now I’m giving it to you,” her mother said as she held up the necklace. “I’ll help you put it on.”
“Are you sure you want to give this to me?” Eloise asked as he mother pressed down on the clasp.
“Of course I do,” her mother said as she turned around to show off the beautiful necklace. “This will be your something old, and something you can pass down at your daughter’s wedding.” Eloise blushed at her mother’s words.
Zorell just rolled her eyes at the rather silly tradition, but seeing that Eloise was the suspicious type it had to be done.
“Well, the dress is something new and my garter is blue, so that just leaves only borrowed,” Eloise said and turned towards Zorell.
She thought fast and remembered the silver bracelet that she was wearing. It was the one Eloise gave her for her birthday, and it would be perfect for her to wear.
“Do you remember this?” she asked as she took off the bracelet and held it up. Even for a simple piece of jewelry it sparkled in the room’s artificial light.
“Are you sure?” Eloise asked knowing that the bracelet meant a lot to her.
“I would love for you to wear it,” Zorell said and dropped it into her hand.
“Oh, thank you, Zorell,” Eloise said and embraced her. “I promise to return it once the ceremony is over.”
“Isn’t it time that the maid of honor has gotten dressed?” Eloise’s mother said giving Zorell a stern look.
“It’s not like anyone is going to be looking at me anyway,” Zorell said but still the older woman gave her a disapproving look. “Oh, alright, I’ll wear that pink frilly dress, but only for Eloise.”
“It’s good that you have come to your senses, Zorell,” Loraine said and put her arm around her shoulders and led her to the door. It’s hanging in the guest room at the end of the hall. Now go change while I help Eloise on with her veil.”
“Yes, Mrs. Freedman,” she said half sarcastically. Again she received a disapproving glare from her best friend’s mother.
She walked down the hallway to the last door and saw that it was halfway opened. She stepped inside and saw that the room was nearly empty. All there was inside was a small bed not much bigger than child size and a small dresser chest with three drawers. The walls were devoid of any pictures or other decorations except for a full length mirror on the wall.
Zorell looked over towards the closet to see it standing open with the dreaded pink lace dress hanging on the door. She took it down off the padded hanger and hesitated for a few minutes until she reached the inevitable. She had no choice but to put on the dress. Only Eloise could ever get her to wear pink.
After she had put on the dress she looked at herself in the mirror and thought that it didn’t look too bad, although the delicacy of the fabric made her feel a little funny. She wasn’t used to wearing anything fancy. Her father only allowed her to wear plain dresses, and even when she was a away at nursing school she didn’t go out much and only owned one evening gown that her father didn’t know about. It was blue flapper with multilayers of fringe that barely went to the knee. If her father had known she had bought such a thing with the meager allowance he gave her that she had saved over months, he would have had it burned. It was one of the reasons she kept it locked in the bottom of her hope chest in a dress bag.
She had just put in her pearled hair piece when she heard voices in the hallway. She saw the door knob turn and one of the voices she realized belonged to her father. She didn’t want to be confronted by him so on instinct she ducked into the closet so she wouldn’t be seen.
The voice of her father became much louder, so she peeked through the crack in the door and saw that Eloise’s father was standing next to him with an envelope in his hand. “This came in the post a few days ago,” the man said holding up an envelope.
“What is it about?” Damon Dupree asked. He had his normal sour expression that could be quite intimidating.
“It’s about a matter I thought I had handled months ago concerning my son,” Mister Freeman said and slightly crumpled up the envelope he was holding in his hand. Zorell could see his knuckles turning white. It was odd to see him in this state, because Mister Freeman was usually so even tempered. To her surprise it looked like he was ready to explode.
“What has Leland done now?” her father asked looking annoyed. Zorell tried not to laugh, but that boy was always getting in trouble over something. It was one of the reasons she liked being around him. It was nice to see someone besides her being caught doing something they shouldn’t be. She was curious to find out what his father was so perturbed about.
“Nothing yet, and he’s not going to,” Mister Freeman said and ripped up the envelope in half and threw it in the waste basket by the night stand. “I’ll see to it that he doesn’t go running after that woman.”
“What does the letter say?” Damon asked and Zorell was curious too.
Mister Freeman’s face looked flushed. “Only that she was in some sort of accident, but the idea of her dying is preposterous. She tried to plead that argument when I confronted her months ago, but I got that whore out of my son’s life, and there is no way I’ll let her suck him back in.”
“That’s a relief,” Damon said but didn’t look convinced. He had a suspicious nature and believed that everyone was deceitful, even if they had not meant to be. “You know I desire to have Leland marry Zorell. I thought perhaps he could be the one to calm her down, and she would give up this silly notion of having a career.”
“Leland is not all that calming of an influence,” Mister Freeman said and he was right. “He’s always going off on some fool idea. Remember last year when he decided to take a trip to see the world. I happily gave him the money, and what do I find? He’s in some love nest with a woman of questionable morality.”
“So why don’t the two of us encourage a love match between Leland and Zorell. I do believe they would make a handsome couple,” Damon said which made Zorell roll her eyes. “Women belong in the home raising children, and if Leland were to become a father sensibility would kick in and he would get himself a proper career. Then their wild spirits would settle down, and they both could live proper lives.”
“I doubt that will ever happen,” Mister Freeman said with a small chuckle. “My son had never shown any romantic interest in your daughter, so it’s best you give up this hope that a marriage would transpire between the two of them.”
“He would if you persuaded him to do so,” Damon remarked which infuriated her. She didn’t want her father playing matchmaker for her.
“I will not,” Mister Freeman said with a determined look in his eye. “I may have stopped my son from marrying that Lavene woman, but I will not force him to marry your daughter.”
“Even if it’s for his own good?” Zorell’s father asked. She didn’t understand why her father would want to her to marry Leland anyway. He was the Freeman’s wild child. He would go off and do whatever he pleased, getting himself into all sorts of trouble, so he had to have an ulterior motive. “He needs a wife to settle him down, and Zorell needs a husband to do the same for her. She’s already twenty years old. She should be married already. It doesn’t look good for me to have a spinster daughter.”
“She’s hardly a spinster, and there nothing shocking about having an unmarried daughter her age.” Mister Freeman gave a short pause and then looked over at Zorell’s father. “I know why you want Zorell to marry Leland… his inheritance.”
“Well, our families have been friends for generations, like family,” Damon said in a persuasive tone. It was a tactic he used in making his business deals, but Zorell refused to have her life become another one of his acquisitions. “Isn’t it better to keep all that money in the family?” She was about to lose her temper and burst out of the closet and give him a piece of her mind, but she remembered that she was a mere eavesdropper and couldn’t make her presence known.
“I want Leland to marry a proper girl but for love. Shanee Lavene wasn’t that girl, but neither is Zorell,” Mister Freeman said and walked out of the room. She saw her father look into the trashcan where Mister Freeman dropped the letter and then turned and walked out.
One name stuck in Zorell’s mind. Shanee. That was the girl that Leland motioned, the one that made him so miserable. If he only knew that she hadn’t left him by choice. That it was his father that orchestrated it all. She stood there for a long while not knowing what to do. When she finally stepped out into the room once again, she still didn’t know what she should do… if anything.
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