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Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Drama · #1288706
At the tea club, sweetened tea makes any scandal easier to swallow.
Sugar & Broken China

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Sweetened tea makes any scandal easier to swallow.

The Rodenberry Woods housing development is quite high class. It's a gated community that, although small, is overflowing with powerful and intriguing residents. Doctors, lawyers and businessmen bring their families to live within the iron-wrought boundaries. They always ignite an underground current of scandal in Rodenberry's pastel-colored houses and stone-covered mansions. However, it is not the men of Rodenberry Woods who carry the true secrets--the women have a fair share of their own. In fact, several of them formed a place where they can go to confide in one another about the issues that plague their lives. The boyfriend-on-the-side that is getting difficult to hide, the husband that just won't die, or the divorce that is taking beyond forever to finalize--these and more are often the topics of conversation at the Rodenberry Tea Society. Here are the tangled stories of three of the club's most prominent, and most troubled, members. The discussions may be scandalous, but sweetened tea makes any difficult conversations easier to swallow down. So, sugar anyone?

The three ladies:
Marcy Doowright - age 44; Married to slick lawyer Chosten, Marcy is the epitome of the 'perfect' housewife. She has three lovely children as well as a boyfriend or two on the side. Also she is the society's best source of comic relief. -Professor Q

Charmaine Williams - age 31; She is the dark beauty of the bunch, having married 80-yr old millionaire Windsor Williams. He's been on his deathbed for three years, and Charmaine has been waiting patiently. There's been no romance, but she has taken good care of him. -Aiken4LOTR

Margaret (soon-to-be) Grey - age 39; Known previously as Margaret Schvitsenheimer, she is now in the middle of a messy divorce from ex Judah. He's a classic case, having taken off with his secretary. So far, none of Margaret's friends have met her new suitor, Hamilton Grey, and little is known about him. -Formerly prophecygirl. Now DarkStarr has kindly taken over.

And the men in their lives:
Andrew Hilden - age 28; He is boyfriend #2 to Mrs. Doowright and has become a bit of a challenge as he takes their relationship a bit farther than Marcy expected. He persistently shows up at inconvenient times, presses her for more dates, and has fallen deeply in love with her. The question is, how far will he go to make Marcy his? -xzar

Jonathan Williams - age 34; A not-so pleasant surprise for Charmaine, he showed up at Windsor's doorstep with bags in tow. He's actually the dying man's grandson and came to be by his grandfather's side during his last days. He begins to stir up trouble, though, when he realizes his attraction to the woman that is, by marriage, his grandmother. -JoeStrong

Hamilton Grey - age 42; He is set to marry Margaret, as soon as her divorce finalizes, that is. As a stranger to Rodenberry, little is known about his past. When he first meets his fiancee's friends, he can sense their apprehension about him and feels a need to throw them off his scent. -Dominique

*Note* This cf is meant to be a drama/satire. So feel free to make is scandalous, funny, intense, etc...pretty much just have fun with it. Btw, let me know which chararacter you want. There will be no bio blocks, so description of your character will occur during your story additions. That's all for now. Thanks! *Wink*

When the first Mrs. Windsor Williams passed away, it left a sad wave of tragedy in the midst of Rodenberry Woods. Windsor was about to turn seventy-seven and it was beyond clear that his health was dwindling. In fact, most of the residents feared that he would soon be joining his late wife. Amelia William’s passing had brought several of the Williams clan to Rodenberry for a short, heartfelt funeral service. The children they had together, Stella and Edward, each arrived with their own families and grown children in tow. The community’s loss had been briefly discussed during the tea society’s meetings before abruptly moving on to more important matters. As head member Lilah Vondoran had so eloquently explained, Amelia had been a dear friend and member, but now that she was gone, “those still living have issues to sort out.”

That had been just over three years ago. Within two months of dear Amelia’s passing, the topic of Windsor Williams had unexpectedly surfaced once again when he secretly wed a much younger, exotic beauty by the name of Charmaine Duvrear. Needless to say, her presence at the following Rodenberry Tea Society meeting was monumental. With her long, lean legs, lithe, petite frame, and newfound fortune, members immediately loved or, more likely, loathed her. That was the day when Charmaine first met her two partners in crime; the lovely Margaret Schvitsenheimer, still happily married to Charles, and the vivacious Marcy Doowright, who, at that time, had only one man in her life, her husband Chosten.

Being one of the younger members, everyone assumed Charmaine would be a juicy addition to the weekly meetings. Surely, this youthful beauty would have some scandalous tidbits to share. Aside from news of Windsor’s progress, or lack of progress, health-wise, Charmaine shared surprisingly little information. If anything, her perfect attendance kept the ladies updated in the latest fashions, as Charmaine never wore less than the best, decked out in curve-hugging dresses and expensive, designer heels.

Today was Thursday, the second meeting day of the week. It was the last week of May, but summer weather had already arrived at Rodenberry. At the first meeting on Tuesday, everything had been normal. Margaret discussed the latest developments in her dawdling divorce from Charles, and Marcy coyly talked about boyfriends number one and two; although she mentioned that the second one was becoming a bit of a nuisance. Charmaine merely stated that Windsor no longer responded when being read or talked to, news that was sad indeed but far from the intriguing sort of gossip the society longed to hear.

“Is everyone here?” Lilah’s thick, shrill voice inquired loudly as the women gathered in the large, open conference room. It was on the second floor of the Rodenberry Lodge. The main floor was where general information, post office boxes, and more resided. The basement was home to the men’s club, and upstairs, in the pristine, white room was where the ladies met twice a week. The room had yellow, floral décor, round tables, wicker chairs and couches, and several large, windows. The balcony doors were always open, allowing a fresh breeze to flow inside and air off some of the ladies’ hot topics. Lilah cleared her throat loudly, attempting to catch the attention of her audience. Dolores Winterbourne was deemed absent, receiving a shockingly happy response from the crowd. Dolores was kind, but more importantly, she was rich. Lilah was sure that Dolores had added the tea society to her will in order to leave the group a generous sum. Shortly after she found out, Lilah told the group; since then, they all waited patiently, making sure to be extra sweet to Dolores when she was healthy enough to show up.

As usual, Margaret and Marcy sat together at one of the round tables. It was covered in a white linen tablecloth and had a vase with yellow roses as a centerpiece. Teacups, spoons, creamers, and sugar cubes had already been laid out properly on the tables. They saved a seat for Charmaine, though there was no need to. The ladies always sat in the same gossip groups. Margaret, Marcy, and Charmaine had the unfortunate luck to be grouped with Lilah Vondoran. As the group’s leader, she knew everyone’s business and shared almost too much information of her own. She was pleasant enough, but she had a difficult personality to fully enjoy.

“Where’s Charmaine?” Margaret asked quietly as she leaned in towards Marcy. She nervously smoothed out her white skirt, scanning the room for the brunette’s presence. “You don’t think anything happened to Windsor, do you?”

“Don’t be silly,” Marcy replied as she dug through her purse. “You know we’d be the first to know. Charmaine would’ve called us immediately. Ahh, here it is,” she said contentedly as she pulled out a small bottle of some unlabeled liquor. “You know, just to spice up the tea. I had a feeling we’d need the extra boost today.”

“No Charmaine Williams?” Lilah finally noticed, her voice penetrating through the air as it clumsily interrupted the polite conversations throughout the room. “Well, I’ll be darned. That’s just not like her. I suppose Mrs. Windsor Williams had better things…”

Just then the white, French door creaked open and the young, dark beauty stepped through. A loud gasp reverberated through the room; this was not the Charmaine Williams they loved and hated, admired and envied. Instead of donning her usual attire, strappy heels and a dress that appeared to be melted onto her figure, Charmaine’s long tan legs and fit form were hidden beneath a pair of dark blue jeans and a simple grey tank top. Her dark brown hair, which normally rested beautifully on her shoulders and shined in the sunlight, was pulled back into a boring ponytail. No mascara or smoky eyeliner could be found outlining her deep, blue-grey eyes. The most scandalous of all was the lack of dark red lipstick on her full, supple lips. The red lips had almost been like a trademark for Charmaine, as it stood out against her naturally tan, glowing complexion. As the ladies sat there, momentarily stunned, they all simultaneously thought to themselves, who is this woman?

“Sorry I’m late,” Charmaine said softly as she quickly made her way across the room and over to her table. She seated herself next to Marcy and tossed a grey, plaid designer purse under her seat. Some of the women sighed in relief, noticing that Charmaine at least had a matching designer purse and heels. Lilah finished attendance, spoke a few words about the community and recent events, and then signaled for some women to bring out the tea. Soon, they were nearly all in their assigned groups.

“What happened?” Margaret asked, concern etched in her voice. “You look…well, different. We’re not used to this. Something must be off.”

“Actually, I’m not quite sure,” Charmaine replied. “I was sitting in Windsor’s room, reading the morning paper to him. I know he doesn’t understand anymore, but it’s become routine.” For the first two years of their marriage, Charmaine barely batted an eye at her bedridden husband. His children visited often, especially when he had close calls. But this last year had been different. They simply hated her and stopped visiting, leaving Charmaine to finally step up. She wasn’t perfect and had the nurses do most of the work. She mostly just read to him, but at least she tried.

“And…?” Marcy urged her on as she began to pour some Jade Oolong tea into their cups. The steam sent up a fresh aroma, and Charmaine breathed it in deeply before continuing.

“I was sitting there in my nightgown reading, and well, you know what I wear,” Charmaine said with a slight laugh as some color flushed her cheeks. “Anyway,” she continued, regaining her composure, “someone knocked, and I called them in, figuring it was just one of the nurses.”

“Oooh, who was it?” Lilah pried, she had apparently joined the conversation. Charmaine was tempted not to continue on, but figured they’d all find out anyway.

“It was a man, a young man I didn’t know,” Charmaine answered. “I’d never seen him before, and I knew it wasn’t one of Windsor’s lawyers. However, I told you what I was wearing, and I was a bit embarrassed. I greeted him and apologized for my attire. I excused myself to change, stating I’d be back in a moment.”

“Well, what did he say? Who was he?” Margaret said between sips of tea. Marcy nodded in hopes of prodding her on as she uncorked her liquor bottle.

“Just as I stepped outside the door,” Charmaine spoke slowly for extra emphasis, “he said ‘Don’t bother rushing, I’d like some time alone with my grandfather!’” Margaret gasped, a thought-filled expression crossing her mind, as she had full knowledge of the trouble Windsor’s family caused her friend. Lilah’s eyes were bugling out of her head, like she couldn’t wait to spread the news. Marcy merely lifted her liquor bottle and poured some of it into Charmaine’s Jade Oolong. "I didn't know what to do, so I just tossed on some clothes and came here."

“Well dear,” Marcy said, nearly overflowing Charmaine’s cup, “looks like you might need this. This grandson could cause some trouble. Actually, not could, he probably will cause some trouble.”

“Unfortunately, Marcy,” Charmaine said as she took a sip of her concoction, “I have a feeling you are all too right.” She drank all of it down, and without even needing to ask, Marcy filled the cup minus the Jade Oolong. “Well, that was my lovely morning. But please, someone else feel free to share your own news.”

Marcy smiled softly, sipping gracefully from her tea cup, and placing the cup and saucer on the table so she could crook an errant cinnamon lock behind a stylishly earringed lobe. Standing, her pumps clicking against the cherrywood planking of the floors, she crossed the room, her lithe figure surprisingly supple and sensual beneath her pink sundress, and set more water to brew. "It seems, my dears, that my loving Chosten has been promoted to full partner, earning him a hefty pay increase." Playing with the diamond tennis bracelette that had been a gift earlier that week from her husband, Marcy stood loosely, one hip cocked as she admired the dazzling array of canary diamonds shining in the light. "He has decided to throw a fete in our honor and, of course, all of you lovely ladies are invited."

That delicious nugget of news set the women gossiping giddily, whispering about new dresses and hats, what food would be perfect for the summer affair. Marcy sighed and rolled her eyes; the Rodenberry Tea Society should really have been named the Rodenberry Busybodies Group of Women Who Do Everything. But at least it kept Lilah busy with the other women while Marcy and Margaret spoke to Charmaine about serious matters. Slipping across the room with a gracious smile and tittering laugh, Marcy settled once more into her chair. "Chosten was deliciously pleased with himself that night. We haven't made love like that since we were newlyweds, though I must say his tongue leaves something to be desired." Marcy sighed. "But that's what I have lovers for, isn't it?"

Margaret's delicate nose wrinkled. "Must you share that kind of information with us, Marcy? That's just the sort of thing Charles will tell me during our divorce battles, now that he's sleeping with secretary number three." Marcy laughed, a deeply robust, appreciative lilt, and shrugged. Of the three women, she had the most dignified appearance, which only served to shock people further when Marcy turned out to be a practical joker with a hellacious sense of humour. Slender and curvaceous, with dark tresses to nearly mid-back, Marcy's features were classic; she could be a 20's flapper or a 50s housewife and still be considered beautiful.

Unlike her tormented friend, Marcy had taken the time to make herself perfect- she was meeting one of her boyfriends after the tea- and lipstick stained her full, Cupid's Bow mouth. Carefully plucked and maintained eyebrows framed her sultry, chocolate brown eyes which had been carefully highlighted with liner and her thick lashes meticulously coated with mascara. Her straight nose and nearly perfect bone structure had be played up with blush and shimmering powder. Compared to Charmaine, Marcy looked like a movie star ready to hit the red carpet, but no one seemed to care. Marcy certainly didn't. It was beneath her to care. Instead, she laughed and took a sip of her sherry. "My dear Margaret, you could always shoot back with intimate details of how you and your new lover broke in that new shower of yours. I daresay it will get his attention."

Charmaine chuckled softly and sipped at her drink, grateful for the distraction, while Margaret thought momentarily before laughing herself. "Charles' face might just be worth it. I'll think about it next time I see Hamilton." That caught Marcy and Charmaine's attention. As yet, neither of them had met Margaret's new suitor, and that was something that discomforted both of them. Margaret was being far too secretive for Marcy's tastes; it was downright rude not to share these details with your friends, especially as the wedding would involve them.

"Speaking of Hamilton," Charmaine asked, "when will be get to meet him?" Marcy nodded in agreement, pouring herself another cup of tea and adding some whiskey out of another flask pulled from her purse. "If you two are going to be married when the divorce finalizes, I think it's only fair that you introduce us to the new man in your life."

Margaret smiled demurely and sipped carefully at her tea. "When the time comes, you two will be the first in Rodenberry to meet him, but he's still really new to town and not quite sure he wants to meet anyone yet. Plus," Margaret's smile turned decidedly wicked, "I quite enjoy my time alone with him. Charles is like a roll of dimes compared to Hamilton."

Marcy laughed again. "I could never be with a man whose penis is the size of my finger. Luckily, none of my men- even Chosten- have that problem." Sighing, Marcy leaned against the table, head resting on one perfectly manicured hand. "Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure what to do with Andrew. He's getting worse. He even came to the house when Chosten was at home. Fortunately, hubby was taking a shower and I got to the door before any of the servants, but he is becoming a rather frustrating problem."

Grateful that her problems were no longer on the front burner, Charmaine leaned in, concern written over her features. Marcy always took problems in stride, finding a way to turn them into a positive. If Andrew really was becoming a disturbing event in Marcy's life, than it had to be worse than anyone had thought. "What's happening with him now? I thought you told him that you wanted to cool things off with him now that you and Christopher were getting so much closer."

"I did! But Andrew is so persistent. He even believes that he's in love with me and I'm afraid that he will ruin everything. I have my children to worry about. Jeremy is just about to graduate from USC and the baseball draft is coming up for him. Chelsea is going into her senior year in high school and needs a stable family environment for that. And little Michael is just entering high school now. I don't know what would happen if Chosten and I had marital problems at this stage. And Andrew doesn't understand that I can't leave my husband for him. My life is more important than that." Taking out her flask again, Marcy drained the entire thing of its whiskey.

"You could always report him to the police," Margaret offered weakly, knowing what Marcy's reply would be. Going to the police would be admitting to Chosten that Marcy had been sleeping around on him for years and the illusion of their perfect life was just that: illusion. Completely fake, a pantomime performed for the sake of Rodenberry and the children.

Marcy shook her head, but didn't reply. "It seems that all three of us have our share of problems. Crazy divorces, grandsons come to wreak havoc in our home lives, and younger men determined to fall in love with their older lovers. What kind of neighborhood do we live in, ladies?"

"A spider web," Margaret replied into the table. "A seemingly fragile tangled mass of sticky webbing that traps and strangles us, forcing us to hold our breaths and hope that the spider doesn't find us."

Sipping at their tea, the three ladies remained silent until Lilah, with a few reminders for the next meeting, dismissed the group to the remainder of their day. With parting promises to meet for lunch the next day, Marcy left the other two behind, driving off in her E-Series Jaguar and heading for home. Neither her husband or her children were in town for the week, leaving Marcy to seek comfort in the arms of her various boyfriends. Thusfar, she hadn't spoken to Andrew that week, preferring to distance herself from his increasingly invasive tactics.

Thinking of Andrew seemed to make him materialize out of thin air. As Marcy drove through the front gate of her Antebellum-style Plantation home, she noticed another car parked in the driveway. She recognized it immediately and, even if she hadn't, the young man sitting on the front porch was painfully obvious. Andrew sat in one of the rocking chairs, impatiently tapping his feet now that he saw Marcy's car in the driveway.

Groaning, Marcy parked the car. Andrew was a handsome boy and a delicious lover, and Marcy liked him more than her other boyfriends, but she was worried that he was much more invested in the relationship than she was. And as she had avoided him for the past week, he would practically be frantic with the need to see her. Readying herself for the onslaught, Marcy checked her lipstick and stepped from the car and into the heat of the midday sun.
A Non-Existent User

Sunshine sparkled off the calm surface of her gigantic outdoor pool and reflected off the surrounding cement patio, making Maggie glad for the D&G sunglasses perched on her pert nose. The day was hot and mercilessly dry, not really the ideal conditions for sunbathing, but Maggie just couldn’t face being indoors right now. In this mood even her sprawling white mansion had begun to feel claustrophobic. Instead, Maggie was currently lying topless on a plush lounge chair, pretending not to notice how her hand shook as she reached for the glass of iced tea on the table beside her.

She’d had to sit through another meeting of the Rodenberry Tea Society today, smiling and laughing with friends, commiserating over Charmaine’s troubles with Windsor’s family and Marcy’s rather overly ardent lover. Both of those situations would bear watching over the next little while – Charmaine had been too good to Windsor to have everything jeopardized now and Marcy, well Marcy was a free spirit who was absolutely dedicated to her children. Nothing could be allowed to touch them. But all the while Maggie had traded barbs and advice with her two best friends in the world, she had been keeping a secret of her own. Well, several actually, but this one she’d blatantly lied about, something she’d never done to them before.

It had just been easier to go along with their assumptions than to admit to the truth. The truth was far, far too embarrassing. The truth is what made her hand shake even now.

His secretary. The bastard was sleeping with his secretary. Again.

Last night had been the final straw. For the third night in a row, Judah had come home late from work smelling of sweat and sex, his tie askew and the back of his shirt only hastily tucked in. Maggie, helped along by her second glass of scotch, had been furious. She’d spent the past several hours sitting alone in the dark, brooding over the horizontal gymnastics that she imagined her husband was probably doing right at that very second with his busty blonde secretary, a woman ludicrously named February. Seriously, who the fuck named their child after a winter month no one could even pronounce properly?!?

The scene that followed had been nasty and predictable, two things Maggie absolutely despised being. She started off by demanding to know where he had been and who he’d been with, even though she was nearly positive she knew the answer to both of these questions. He’d replied that he had been at the office working. She called him a liar, pointing out that she’d never known an accountant to sweat at work outside the month of April. He called her paranoid and told her to pour another scotch. With that pithy little suggestion she’d lashed out. She wasn’t a drunk and even the suggestion that she was was enough to send her temper over the edge. Incensed, Maggie had tossed what was left of her second drink dramatically into Judah’s face. Since that had felt so good, Maggie had followed it up by launching her crystal glass forcefully at the wall above his head. His desperate duck for cover combined with the sound of glass shattering and dropping to the cold ceramic floors had been extremely satisfying.

For the next hour Maggie had fought with Judah, alternately spewing insulting comments and begging for information, for a confirmation of her suspicions. She’d raged at him, hit him and cried buckets of tears over him, but nothing she’d done had made a difference. Not once had Judah cracked. He’d begged her forgiveness for coming home late without calling. He’d told her over and over again how much he loved her and would never intentionally hurt her. And through it all, he’d categorically denied any involvement with his floozy of a secretary.

Maggie, an expert on bluffing, had watched his face and seen the sincerity in his eyes. However, it didn’t match what her heart told her. Her heart told her that that her husband, Judah S. Schvitsenheimer, was a two-timing, skeezy bastard who was screwing his overpaid, undereducated secretary on company time. And, since Judah was also Maggie’s accountant, that meant that technically Maggie was footing the bill for at least some of the time that February spent on her back on her husband’s 19th century desk, a desk which Maggie had personally picked out for him last fall.

But his denials had planted a tiny little seed of doubt in her head and that had been enough to keep him in the house last night, if not in her bed. She needed absolute proof if she was going to boot him out of their mansion once and for all. She needed something that would allow her to skin him in the divorce.

So that’s why Maggie now stood poised on the threshold of her husband’s tastefully decorated office, her stylish Christian Louboutin heels sinking into the plush navy carpet. As much as she wanted to keep the illusion of their marriage alive, she just couldn’t allow herself to play the fool any longer.

Taking a deep breath against the disappointment that she had instinctively known was coming, Maggie had thrown the office door open unannounced. She had been prepared to see February’s desk empty. She had been prepared to hear heady moans coming from behind his closed office door. What she had not been prepared for was seeing February’s startled face as she sat behind her own heavy oak desk, dutifully typing up a pile of inter-office memos.

Seeing February sitting at her desk actually doing her job had taken some of the wind out of Maggie’s sails. Maybe she had been wrong after all. Maybe Judah had actually been telling her the truth when he’d said that he had been at work last night, although the air conditioning in the office was ridiculously chilly, even through her light summer sweater.

“Can I help you with something Mrs. Schvitsenheimer?” February asked, looking both dazed and confused by the unusual interruption.

For a moment Maggie had been thrown off. “N-No. Nothing, Ms. Jones. I was so sure…” She hesitated, then shook her head. “I’ll just go ahead in to see Judah. Don’t bother announcing me.” With that, Maggie fluffed her hair, smoothed her skirt and strode towards Judah’s door, oblivious to February as she started to frantically the push the buzzer for her husband’s office.

Maybe there was still hope for their marriage. Maybe her life wasn’t a tragic cliché after all.

Or, she thought as she pushed open the door to see the scene inside, maybe her life was merely tragic.

Poking out from beneath her husband’s antique desk was not the pointy little stilettos that Maggie had originally anticipated seeing, but a pair of highly polished wing tips. Across the room from her, Judah cursed loudly and hastily began tucking his vital parts back into his trousers. He stammered apologies and a lot of what sounded like, “This isn’t what it looks like. Maggie, I swear this isn’t what it looks like. I was just… We were just…”

Maggie barely heard the excuses. She watched in shocked silence, fascinated as the wing tips under the desk scrambled for a moment. There was a big thump and the solid wooden desk rocked a little from underneath. A series of expletives was let out in a low, husky voice that sounded distinctly unlike that of a slutty secretary.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, give it up Judah,” came from beneath that wonderful antique desk. “You’ve been caught with your pants down. Literally. No use denying it now.”

Maggie’s eyes widened as she watched a young, fit man slowly emerge from behind the desk. No shame in his eyes at all, he stood, brushed his suit jacket off and adjusted his tie as he surveyed Maggie. He rubbed absently at the sore spot on his head. “Don’t suppose you want to shake hands with me at the moment, but I’m Frank, your husband’s personal assistant.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Maggie answered, stunned.

“Maggie…” Judah looked desperately unhappy as she started to back slowly out of the room. “Maggie, please…”

“Enough, Judah. Just… enough. I’ll tell my lawyer you’ll be in touch.” She continued to back out of the room, nearly bumping into a hovering February on her way out. “Although,” she mused, “maybe I should look into getting a female lawyer for this one.”

Judah’s betrayal had cut Maggie to the core. Catching him with Frank had been no more sordid than if she had caught him with February – he still would have been unfaithful to her. But it was the years of lies and doubts that she now regretted. Had he ever loved her? Or had she always merely been a convenient smoke screen for him?

The sad part was that being gay wouldn’t have hurt his career. It wasn’t like he’d be the first gay Jewish accountant ever. But, if it got out about Judah, the backlash from the tabloids might hurt Maggie’s career. She’d been in the game long enough to know that there wasn’t anything the rags loved better than a good juicy story. And Hollywood’s favourite has-been femme fatale involved in a gay love triangle could run on the front page for months. Just thinking about it gave Maggie a headache. Hard to make a comeback on the silver screen when people cared more about your love life than your talent.

As enthralling as they were, her musings were cut short as a shadow fell over her prone body. She didn’t reach for a towel or attempt to modesty cover up her bare breasts. Instead, she merely forced the upsetting memories to the back of her mind and let a rather naughty smile sneak onto her lips. “Well, hello Hamilton.”

Jonathan Williams sat in the room, alone with his comatose grandfather, for at least a couple of hours. During that time he never once could work up the nerve to so much as touch the old man, or speak to him. So he sat down in the fancy antique chair, recently vacated, and simply stared at the man on the king-size bed. He was still staggering under the terrible weight of the truth. Here, now, was "Grampa Windy," (Windsor Williams was known by that name by all of his children's children, even into their adulthood) everything he had ever been and everything he had ever meant. He imagined the gallant, smiling giant who was so happily settled in his memories, and turned back to the frail old man lying on the bed in front of him. Thirty years had passed between them; it seemed like nothing. They were still the exact same person and they even looked the same. Soon they would both be gone forever.

Losing a loved one is not meant to be thought about in silence and isolation for so long. Finally, Jonathan decided to search for a distraction. He couldn't sit still anymore. He began to wander around the room and took note of the fully-stacked bookshelf near Windsor's bed. He took out, randomly, a few of the more unusual books and began reading.

Eventually there was a slight knock on the door. Not wanting to make any more noise than he had to, Jonathan looked up from his newest book, Great Autistic Women of the 20th Century (quintessential Grampa Windy reading material), got up and opened the door himself. "Yeah?" he inquired in a loud whisper, even though he could already see who it was.

It was the woman who had been in the room when he had come in. Jonathan knew it could be no other woman than her--Grampa Windy's wife. He had not had a good look at her before and was surprised to see how young she was; younger, probably, than Jonathan himself. She stood at eye level to him, tanned to an extent he wouldn't have thought impossible, and carried herself with a very delicate, feminine air. He caught sight of the gold necklace she wore around her neck, which was immediately recognizable as having belonged to his grandmother Amelia. It had a golden disk in the center, the size of a US quarter, inlaid with tiny stones and a pearl in the center. Jonathan was just thinking how well she wore it when he realized that he was gazing at an object located dangerously close to her neckline, and quickly looked up and off to the side. Had she been looking at him? More likely it was a figment of his imagination; beyond his short, curly dark red hair and bright green eyes, there was nothing Jonathan had to offer physically. He was not especially tall, his skin was an uninteresting sandy color and in stature he was at that exasperating midpoint between being muscled and being lean.

"I'm sorry. Am I interrupting anything?" She looked Jonathan over as she stepped slowly into the room. She had probably thought she knew all Windsor's grandchildren already and was wondering if she had ever seen him before.

"No, no, of course not. He hasn't moved once." Jonathan kept his voice to a whisper as he turned back to the old man. "I've just been sitting here. I was watching him for a while, and then I just decided to look at the books. I was just waiting for him to wake up."

"You know, you don't have to whisper. He can't hear us." There was a slight tinge of amusement in her voice as she explained this, which was quickly replaced by solemnity. "Were you, uh, hoping to... talk to him?"

"Yeah, is that okay right now?"

She shook her head slowly. "I'm sorry... it's not that I have a problem with it, but, well... Windsor doesn't respond to anybody anymore."

This whole time Jonathan had been hoping he wouldn't hear those words. Now it was as if he had come for nothing. He sat down again. "I didn't even get to say goodbye..."

"I'm so sorry," she said again. "I thought everyone in Windsor's family already knew about it. They were all notified by the doctors; I guess they missed you."

Jonathan stood up. "Yeah, I've been...out of touch with the rest of the family for a while. We've never met. Are you... Sharmeen?"

"Charmaine." She corrected him gently, extending a manicured, pink-nailed hand. For someone whom his mother and siblings had reported to be a "contemptuous, conspiring whore," she did not seem so bad. Jonathan had been just as put off as everyone else when his grandfather had announced he was marrying a younger woman so soon after Grandma's death, but he, at least, had tried to keep an open mind. It was a crazy, imperfect world, and unlikely things DID happen--people took new lovers, others had to get used to them, older people fell in love with younger people. As for the claim that Charmaine merely wanted Grampa's money, Jonathan would be more worried if he actually wanted it that badly... and if his brother and uncle weren't lawyers.

His sister Alice had once asked him how he could be so condescending of the sacred institution of marriage. He had simply reminded her of something they had both grown up knowing, "Sanctity is a dubious concept when money is involved."

"I'm Jonathan Williams. Edward's son. You probably know me best as the one grandchild who never visited."

Apparently, Charmaine DID remember this, although all the other relatives had stopped visiting long ago and since then she had not thought about them as much. "Windsor was upset when you didn't come to the wedding. He was always hoping you'd visit, always kept on hoping even as it got worse." Jonathan brightened at this. "You know, I never quite understood exactly what detained you, but Chester told me you were in jail. "

Jonathan frowned at the name. "Chester KNOWS the truth, he just hates me. No, I was in France. Long story, for another time." Duvrear, he remembered, was her maiden name. Was she French? If so, this particular tale might not go over well with her. "Oh, and he may have told you I wait tables for a living. That's crap. I'm a dessert chef." Her eyes widened with intrigue. It was a charming thing to watch. "I know I haven't been there for him, and, well, I'd like to make up for that now. I was hoping to stay with him until the end, I heard that's not long off. So..."

Charmaine (should he call her that or Mrs. Williams? Or Grandma, he thought with a shudder) hesitated ever so slightly. No doubt she had had her fill of suspicious relatives, particularly Chester Williams, who was the son of Stella Williams, taught fencing in a Catholic school and hated Jonathan with a reciprocated passion. "You can stay in the guest room; it's right down that hall. And, um... welcome, Jon. Glad you finally came." She motioned to the sleeping man. "You can say hello if you want, before you get settled in. There's really no point in waiting." Her voice trailed off and she was silent. Jonathan knew she was right.

Slowly, respectfully, he approached the bed. He was beyond all hope of illiciting a response as he laid his hands gently on Grampa's wrinkled arm. Suddenly, the old man began to moan incoherently, softly, but so suddenly that both Charmaine and Jonathan jumped back.

Windsor had both eyes open now, slightly, but they were open. His mouth had curved into a weak smile. Charmaine was both delighted and flabbergasted. "He hasn't responded to anything in weeks! How--?"

Jonathan knew, and it made him ecstatic. "The smell!" He announced triumphantly. "He recognizes the smell on my clothes." Charmaine came closer to Jonathan and there was no denying it. His spotless white T-shirt, his faded blue jeans, even his socks gave off the same (mostly) wonderful, strong, sugary musk. "It's mostly caramel sauce, dark chocolate, cherry juice and powdered sugar," he explained. "It always follows me out of work, and it's so much harder to wash out of clothes than skin." He patted the old man who looked up at him; Jonathan's eyes were slightly teary. "Hi, Grampa Windy. I came. Everything's okay now."

Sometime later, Jonathan had completely set up the guest bedroom. He paused for a moment to take the whole room in. "I don't think I've slept in this room for years."

There was a knock on the door, this time Jonathan said, "Come in!" The door opened and it was Charmaine, but without the tank top and jeans. Jonathan was completely taken aback by her new appearance: a glamorous yellow dress, hair hanging down past her shoulders and makeup to boot. Fortunately, she started speaking before he could really start to stare. "He's fallen off to sleep again," she said. "I don't know when he'll wake up again, if he does at all." She looked around to make sure he had gotten settled in. "Thank you so much for bringing him around. I can't believe how you did it, but it was wonderful to see him smile again." Jonathan had to agree. "Oh, and the smell on your clothes... unbelievable! Will you perhaps show me sometime what dish of yours has so many good-smelling ingredients?"

"It's a date," said Jonathan, who hadn't realized all the possible meanings of his words until they had already left his mouth. He would have given it more thought then and there, but there was a blood-curdling scream as Charmaine turned to go and came face to face with a large green snake--albeit safely contained in a glass tank. Jonathan resisted a laugh. "I see you've met Antoine."
A Non-Existent User

Tapping out a tune on the porch with his feet, Andrew roughly hummed along whilst rolling himself a cigarette, gazing around the Doowright estate as he did so. Marcy sure had it sweet. He'd been to the house before, once he'd almost even got inside if Marcy hadn't have turned into a human wall on him. But without her here, he'd had a chance to really take a good look around. Whilst she was around, he didn't really have the will to look at anything else. He hadn't gone around peeking through the windows or anything, apart from the ones by the front porch, but he'd only done that because they were there. He wanted to know more about the woman, to see the couch that she sat on, the mug she drank from and where she made her meals. Not that she probably did any of that. People like Marcy had sofas instead of couches, glasses or flutes instead of mugs, and she probably didn't even know where the kitchen was. Until he'd had a chance to think about it, he didn't even realise the basics about her.

Licking the cigarette paper roughly, Andrew folded it over and popped it in his mouth fluidly and lit it before taking a slow drag and leaning forward in the porch chair. He'd been attracted to Marcy the first time he saw her in that department store. The fact that she had done most of the flirting was even hotter. The only reason he was there was because of his buddy Frank. Leaning back in the seat with a grin on his face, Andrew hooked one leg over one of the armrests. His life might be complicated, but those gays seemed to just pull drama out of thin air. Whilst Frank had been dragging him around the store and telling him how he'd been doing some overtime with his boss, Andrew had bumped into Marcy. Frank was pretty switched on and gave him some room, in fact he'd probably sensed the vibe in the room before he had. Too bad he wasn't all that good at sensing the arrival of angry wives.

Marcy seemed to make everything so easy. There weren't any games, just conversation. They talked for a bit and then hit up a bar, and the rest was pretty much history. Unlike girls his age, she just stated what she wanted and took it, and he was up for that. He didn't need to work her out, not sexually anyway, or try and work out what she really meant when she said something. She was more like a guy in that way and thankfully only that way. In every other way she was a woman. A beautiful woman. But then sometimes he didn't really seem to know her at all. She pretty much made up the rules and that was cool, but then there was what she said and what she meant. One minute she could say something in a deathly serious voice like nothing was more important, and then a few hours down the line, she could coyly hint at the exact opposite. Sometimes he swore she was almost permanently half cut the way she switched, and she could certainly put the drink away, but she'd had to have had a brewery in that handbag of hers to stay that pissed. But then the woman was a walking puzzle. The happy wife and devoted mother with a boyfriend. String of boyfriends, if Andrew admitted the truth to himself. It stang a bit, but it only really made sense. Anyway, his lover who was also a devoted wife, who only stated what she meant yet hinted at more was still a complete mystery. Sometimes by the way that she spoke and acted, yet by the way that she was and lived, he doubted that she even knew who the real Marcy was.

After what felt like an eternity, Marcy's Jaguar finally pulled in to the drive snaking its way up to the house slowly. As Marcy parked the car, Andrew licked his lips nervously and sprang up putting his free hand into his jeans pocket. He hadn't shaved that day and he had yesterdays jeans on, but for some reason that didn't really feel important until now. Raking a hand through his hair, he quickly threw the cigarette into one of the borders of plants before the lady of the house noticed. Getting out of the car and pushing the door shut slowly, Marcy walked toward the house with a thin smile. “Hello Andrew.”

“Hey,” he replied, removing a hand from his right pocket only long enough to manage a small wave. “I hadn't heard from you for a while, so I thought I'd just come by.”

“Did you not realise I wasn't in?” Marcy said, folding her arms under her bust.

“I just wanted to see you,” Andrew said softly, shrugging.

“What if my husband was home? Or suddenly turned up?”

“He's away on business this week.” Marcy tilted her head to the side and ran her left hand up to her neck and started to rub it slowly.

“How did you know that?” she said, the softness in her voice enveloped by her snappy tone.

“You told me, a few weeks ago. Remember?” The smallest comments that Marcy threw around were dutifully picked up and catalogued by her dutiful lover, it seemed. “Besides, I'm sure that I'd have plenty to talk about with Chosten if we met.”

“Don't even joke about it.” Marcy said in her iciest tones. She couldn't even recall telling Andrew her husbands name. Walking stiffly past Andrew, Marcy slowly ascended the few steps up to the shadowy cool of the porch.

“I'm sorry, it was only a joke.” Andrew said. Pulling her keys out of her handbag, Marcy opened the door quickly and went to go inside. “So is that it? My audience is over?” Staring after Marcy in disbelief, he looked at her back in wonder. He had never really spoken to her like that before, and his heart raced a little faster for it. As much as he loved her, Marcy also scared him a little sometimes. “Come on Marcy, let me in. Let's just enjoy the time we have together.”

Turning around slowly, Marcy raised her eyes to look at Andrew and just stared at him.

Hamilton's dark blue eyes raked over every inch of Maggie's body. For a woman nearing forty, he was always surprised by how perfect she was physically. He watched as she sat up slowly and pushed her large sunglasses from her nose to sit on top of her head.

"Hello yourself." He said after a moment and felt a slow smile pull at his lips. He took the towel from the top of her sun lounger as two young men, armed with their gardening tools, entered the garden escorted by Margaret's housekeeper. Hamilton knelt down beside Maggie's lounger and carefully wrapped the towel around her slight form. He always felt like a clumsy giant compared to his graceful fiancee, even kneeling in front of her, with her sat up, his head was higher than hers.

A slight frown flickered across Maggie's flawless face, and Hamilton knew that his action had annoyed her. "You can't honestly expect me to share, can you?" He said and laid an attack of soft kisses over her face.

A small smile lit Maggie's face, and she placed a hand on Hamilton's hard chest. "Talking of sharing, Marcy and Charmaine are desperate to meet you." She told him this with anxiety in her voice; it had become somewhat of a touchy subject between them, the sole issue, she felt, in their relationship.

Hamilton's embrace slackened noticeably, and he could tell Maggie immediately regreted mentioning it. "Just a little longer Mag, a week or so tops?"

She immediately nodded. "Of course." She slipped her tan arms around his neck and wound her legs around his waist in a sort of apology for bringing it up.

Hamilton grinned and tightened his muscled arms around her body and stood up, lifting her as he did. The towel slipped to the floor behind them as he carried Maggie towards the house.

A soft stroking motion on his chest slowly roused Hamilton from his light sleep. He let his eyes gradually open and turned his head to gaze at Maggie. Her hair was dishevelled, cheeks flushed and her eyes were glinting wickedly. "Sorry Maggie I didn't mean to fall asleep." He apologized and turned on his side to face her.

"It's okay. You look exhausted." She commented, concern in her voice. She reached out a hand and stroked his face gently, her eyes searching his. Pain tugged at his chest, he wished he could tell her everything, but what would she think? What would she say? She probably wouldn't want to be with him anymore, and he couldn't deal with that, he was in far too deep.

Hamilton wrapped one arm around her body, she had slipped one of his t-shirts on whilst he dozed, and she looked good enough to eat. He pulled her closer to him in an easy motion and held her there. She shivered slightly and snuggled in closer to him slipping her cold feet underneath his warm legs.

"If I could do this for the rest of my life I'd die a happy man," Hamilton told her as he placed a hungry kiss on her parted lips. He felt her body respond and held her tighter to him still as her back arched slightly. Her delicate hands roamed his body as she returned his kiss.

The shrill ringing of his mobile phone broke the moment. Cursing angrily, he apologized and leapt out of the bed to find his suit trousers. He yanked the small silver phone from the pocket and glanced at the number flashing up on the screen.


Knowing the phone would continue to ring until he answered, it Hamilton yanked the trousers on quickly. "I'll be back Mag, don't move." He told her and hurried from the room. A safe distance from the closed bedroom door, he answered the phone.

“And exactly what purpose does Antoine serve?” Charmaine asked incredulously, her hand resting firmly against her chest as she tried to subdue her suddenly rapid heartbeat. “Don’t tell me he helps taste test your caramel sauce and powdered sugar,” she added with a slight huff as she glared at the hideous creature. Perhaps the stench of snake was the one thing that kept Windsor’s grandson from smelling like a dreamy, dessert confection. She was probably just imagining the snake giving off a rotten scent; however, the sweet aroma in the air around Antoine’s owner was irrefutable.

“Nah,” Jonathan replied coolly, a seemingly amused expression on his face. “He’s not a fan of chocolate or anything, unless of course it’s a chocolate-covered mouse.” Charmaine’s hand immediately rose to cover her mouth as she grimaced in disgust. It was marvelous, how even with a face expressing nothing less than utter revulsion, her soft, tanned features still managed to be pretty. She then slowly pulled her hand away from her lips, which were miraculously still tinged in a dark rouge gloss.

“Well then,” she began slowly as she backed away from the glass tank. Her eyes remained focused on the beast, which had curiously not turned its gaze away from her either. “I suppose that means you will be bringing mice into this historical beauty of a house.”

“Why yes, I mean, Antoine’s got to eat,” Jonathan responded. “But don’t worry,” he continued as a soft thud sounded when Charmaine accidentally backed up into him. Sorry she mouthed as she faced him and took a step back. “I’ll be sure to keep Antoine and his furry friends in this room. Rest assured, this ‘historical beauty of a house’ will be left untainted.”

“That sounds lovely,” Charmaine said as she, once again, headed toward the door—this time steering clear of Antoine. “Well, please make yourself at home. You could be here for a mere days, a few weeks, or possibly, even longer. And Jon, know that you’re welcome to visit Windsor—I mean, your grandfather—whenever you wish. Course, I’ll be sure to dress more properly when I’m with him, so I don’t startle you or anything.”

It was difficult not to be startled by Charmaine even when she was fully clothed; nevertheless, Jonathon nodded politely. “Thank-you, that sounds good,” he said, nervously running a hand through his thick, dark red curls.

Charmaine was out the door and stood silently in the long, empty hallway. Hearing a quiet click, indicating a closing door behind her, she began to walk slowly through the place she had called home for the past three years. The halls were wide and paneled on all sides with a rich, cherry wood. A narrow, fraying running carpet was laid down on the floor. On either side, tall vases, plants and various nightstands and tables were scattered about, in between doorways, for decorative purposes. The walls were covered in dated wallpaper, so old that its edges were browning and the whole wall held an aging, yellow tint. Bursts of flowers and paisley were among some of the wallpaper’s artistic highlights. Random cherub angels seemed to be in the mix as well. Charmaine shook her head, a soft chuckle escaping her lips. Clearly Amelia had decorated the place when she and Windsor bought it half a century ago. Though, Charmaine supposed, at the time Amelia’s design choices had probably been considered tasteful.

Shortly after the wedding and cancelled honeymoon, when Windsor first became bedridden, Charmaine had seriously mulled over redecorating the large, three-story home built for “old timers.” But since moving in, the first Mrs. Windsor’s décor stylings had slowly grown on the new. No amount of money or team of expert designers could even attempt to imitate the character and class of the Williams mansion. It had been the first home built in Rodenberry Woods seventy years ago. Back then, the neighborhood was much smaller and had less power and intrigue to boast. Today, a very different Rodenberry Woods existed. Several more homes and mansions had been built, each more modern than the one before. They were all beautiful, but they lacked the one thing that made the Williams estate so unparalleled—the times and tastes of the late Amelia Williams.

With Margaret and Marcy having gone their separate ways for the day, Charmaine found herself having a free afternoon. The main rooms of the house—kitchen, dining, living rooms--were on the first floor, bedrooms were on the second, and other various rooms filled the rarely-visited, third floor. So, she spent her time roaming into rooms she had never ventured into before. Finally, she happened upon one filled with dust and furniture covered in old sheets. Only two items were left out in the open. A large mirror encased in a thick, oval, brass frame, and another similarly framed object. Charmaine’s mouth opened slightly in awe as she took a step towards it. Her eyes couldn’t pull themselves away from the image of a dashing, younger Windsor with tousled, dark red tresses, or from the vibrant green of Amelia’s lovely eyes. Then, as her glance momentarily averted to the mirror, she noticed something that both Mrs. Windsor Williamses had in common—a golden, charm with small stones and a pearl, lying so elegantly on their chests. Charmaine smiled as she delicately wrapped her fingers around the necklace charm she was wearing.

In all honesty, Windsor’s wealth had definitely been one of the man’s most appealing “qualities.” However, the way this aging, lonely man had talked about his late wife was far more than endearing—it was admirable and memorable. Charmaine had kept her eyes open for the right rich, dying old man to latch herself onto. She just never expected to marry a man she could actually respect. As she stood there, though, she realized that the reverence and caring she held for him only made her job that much more difficult. By law she was Windsor’s wife, and by law, the house and a great deal of his money was rightfully hers. Despite this, she had a terrible, nagging feeling that the man a few rooms down from her, and several more of the family, would not see it that way.

“I’m sorry Amelia,” she said softly as she took a step towards the picture. She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. The woman before her had invested fifty years of her life into her husband, her family and this home, and yet, she would never see a single cent for all of her hard work. “What a pity”, Charmaine thought. All good wives deserved their fair share. “Wait, scratch that”, she reflected. All wives deserve their fair share.

Suddenly, her thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on the door. She turned to see a familiar head of red hair coming towards her. “Mrs. Will--er, Charmaine,” Jonathan entered somewhat clumsily. “The butler couldn’t find you, but your cell phone rang. Here, it’s your friend, um, Marcy I believe she said was her name,” he said rather quickly as he extended his hand toward her, slim silver electronic in hand.

“Oh Marcy,” Charmaine said, a quick smile slipping onto her lips as she let go of her necklace and grabbed the phone. “Marcy dear, how are you? What’s going on?” Jonathan stood awkwardly for a moment, before deciding to walk around and explore the cluttered room.
“Charmaine, was that Windsor’s grandson?” Marcy asked, her tone giving away her instinctive propensity for curiosity. “He sounds interesting.”

“Yes Marcy,” Charmaine replied softly, glancing over her shoulder to locate the whereabouts of her grandson…no, her guest, merely her guest. “Yes, that was him. His name is Jonathan. Anyway, what do you mean by interesting? Wait, never mind. What did you call for?”

“Well, let’s just say I got a bit of a surprise when I returned home from today’s meeting,” she began. Charmaine didn’t even need to bother guessing. The name Andrew was at the forefront of both their minds. “I’d rather not talk about it over the phone. How about the three of us discuss it while, um, planning the party for Chosten’s promotion. Does that sound like a reasonable guise? I’ve already called Margaret. She’ll be over soon. Really Charmaine, you must come. Bring little Johnny if you’d like.”

Charmaine almost laughed out loud, but decided to control herself. Little Johnny was a somewhat deceiving name, seeing as she was almost positive he was older than her. “Aren’t we meeting for lunch tomorrow? Should we just talk about it then?” Marcy’s abrupt silence clearly indicated that she wanted her friend’s presence immediately. “All right, I’m on my way, but I don’t know about having Jon come.”

“Why not? We need a man’s perspective on food and such. I have to plan the appetizers and desserts, pretty much everything. Besides, it’s better than leaving him alone there. Unless of course, he wants to be alone. And hey, if Chosten comes home early, he can make a male friend. Jonathan needs friends, right? He’s gonna be here for a while.” Marcy’s words sparked something in the young brunette’s mind. Marcy needed to plan her party, and certainly proper dessert dishes were required to impress. Perhaps Jonathan would enjoy a small, side job?

“Maybe you’re right,” Charmaine said. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. You’ll know what I decide based on whether or not I have a handsome, young man by my side. And if there is, I think he could actually be of some use for your party.”

“I’m sorry,” Marcy said, her voice taking a pseudo-serious tone. “No strippers at this party. But thanks for the thought!”

Charmaine shook her head and laughed, causing Jonathan to glance her way. He had been looking at the photo of his grandparents, but he didn’t seem troubled or bothered by the interruption. “Sorry, how silly of me. I should’ve known better,” Charmaine retorted playfully. “See you a in a few, Marce.” She then clicked her phone shut and offered her guest a proposal to meet a few of the neighbors.

In less than an hour, Jonathon was standing at the head of the kitchen, with a veritable army of Mrs. Doowright's cooking staff waiting on his every word. Everything had happened like a whirlwind: Charmaine had gotten off the phone, right away asked him to come along to her friend's house, yanked him off to the car before he had even finished agreeing, and suddenly, they were there. The whole thing had happened in less than an hour.

Jonathon was, initially, unsure about spending time away from his grandfather to help plan a party for someone he had never even met before. He was even less certain about making the same desserts, for free, that he was paid to make elsewhere; most chefs, as well as restaurant managers, considered this to be "culinary prostitution", and if it ever got out that he was doing it, it could be trouble. Still, Jonathon had realized, he had three weeks' leave, and what he did over that time was his business; furthermore, even if Marcy or Charmaine had offered to pay him, he was a guest here and wouldn't even feel right accepting it. And, to be perfectly honest, he did enjoy feeling needed in this way.

Hence, it all worked out. Jonathon had promised Marcy his best work, asking, in return only that she keep secret the recipes, which she agreed upon. Jonathon had immediately gotten to work, taking stock of the resources on hand and calculating a list of additional things he would need, only to find that scarcely had he turned around before Marcy, Charmaine and the third friend--Margaret Grey, her name was--had withdrawn themselves into a private corner of the house and left him alone with Marcy's cooking staff. He decided not to pry, as they were probably talking about something personal, and instead focused on the task at hand.

Jonathon now turned to the butlers and said, "All right, I need you to get me all of the following things..." Here he read off the list he had made: "Chocolate chips, sprinkles, blueberry sauce, ice cream cones--the waffle kind works best--white chocolate, white cake mix, corn muffins, oatmeal raisin cookies, angel food cake, sugar cookies, shortbread, pound cake, and... um... oh! Right! Gingerbread! and hey, do you have a pineapple around here?"

The butler took the list and went off while another kitchen attendant quickly arranged a whole pineapple on a curring board with several kinds of knives, and presented it to Jonathon. To his surprise Jonathon merely cut the fruit in half on the spot, took of a few slices and began nibbling one. Pineapple was not part of any recipes, it was simply a favorite of Jon's; as a connoisseur of sweet tastes, he loved fruit, and enjoyed it in a way not everyone did. This pineapple wasn't quite as tasty as he was used to--usually he took more time to selected the fruit, peel it and cut it himself so as to preserve the flavor--but as a quick snack it was just what he needed.

Jonathon took a moment to step out on the back porch while he finished the pineapple slices, partly to look back in the direction of the house where his grandfather lay, incapacitated, but also partly to take in the enormity of the Doowright house, only the second enormous house he had been in today. It would be some time before the kitchen staff had asembled all the ingredients he needed, so he had a minute to himself.

His thoughts were interrupted, however, by the arrival of a new car in the driveway. it was unfamiliar, but he wasn't exactly familiar with anybody here--or their cars. This one, however, wasn't as sleek or expensive-looking as Charmaine's or either of her two friends. It pulled up, stopped and out came a nervous-looking young man with a cigarette in one hand. When he saw Jonathon his face fell apprehensively.

"Hello?" said Jonathon.

"Who are you?" replied the young man, scrutinizing Jonathon.

"Oh," said Jonathon quickly, "I'm--um--I'm not from around here, I'm just visiting. Mrs. Doowright is in the house, if you want--"

"What are you doing here?" asked the young man. "Are you--?"

After a few seconds, Jonathon realized he wasn't going to finish that sentence. He was confused. "Am I--what?"

"You know."

"No, I don't know."

"You know, one of-- them."

"One of what? Who's them?"

The man laughed. "You're really kidding me, aren't you?"

"Look, you obviously expect me to know what you're talking about. Doesn't the fact that I don't know what you're talking about prove that I'm not who you think I am?" That had made more sense in his head than it did out loud. Oh, well.

The man paused. "So, you don't know what I'm talking about?"


The man paused for another minute. Then: "I'm Andrew." He held another cigarette, recently rolled.

"Nice to meet you, Andrew. I'm Jon. And no thanks, I don't smoke."

"Jon what?"


"Mmm-hmm. And are you a friend of Mr. Doowright?"


"Are you here on business?"

Sort of, though Jonathon. "Not really."

"And you're what? Thirty?"


"Gotcha." The man smiled, having apparently heard exactly what he had wanted to hear. "I'll come back later. A word to the wise: watch yourself around here. You're being played for a sucker and you obviously don't know it yet." Without another word he drove off. Jonathon watched him go.

"I have a bad feeling about this," he said, to nobody in particular but himself. "Who the hell was that guy, and what was he talking about?" Obivously, there was nobody around to answer. Jonathon sighed, shrugged, and finished the pineapple, then went in.

* * * * *

"Well, Jonathon," said Charmaine. "Show us what you've come up with, won't you?"

"Yes, please?" asked Marcy.

Charmaine and her friends had emerged, their talk, whatever it was about, apparently finished. By this time Jonathon had finished making his first dessert. It was a personal favorite of his, although usually he only made it for special occasions because it was so difficult to make in large numbers. For one thing, it required him to use almost all of the Doowrights' tall glasses, as well as a lot of refrigerator space. However, at the request of all three women, he now produced one, as a sample. Outwardly, it was a waffle cone with a thick, solid white chocolate cap over the top. Inside, as he explained, it was a different matter:

"This I call the Doinel. The white chocolate cap on the top is filled with custard--like the kind found in cheesecake, usually, but I could make it differently. After you eat that off, then you have the inside of the cone, and there's a very specific way to eat that. The best way to do it is to make a small hole in the side of the chocolate shell on top, and pour this--" here Jonathon produced a 1/3 cup of blueberry sauce, "--through the hole. Inside the cone are a mixture of cookie and cake pieces, of all kinds and all varieties, with cinammon and chocolate chips. Eat it right, and the blueberry sauce will soak into the cake, the cookie, and the cone. There is no greater taste sensation, if you do it right: trust me. Now... would anyone like to taste the first one?"

All of them wanted to try it first, so Jonathon gave the first one--not, admittedly, a totally impartial decision--to Charmaine. Delicately she nibbled at the edge of the white chocolate until there was a tiny hole big enough to pour through, and, cautiously, tipped the cup enough to pour all the liquid slowly in. This done, she gave it a second to soak, and then bit through into the cone. Her initial expression was surprised, and confused, and for a moment Jonathon was afraid something might be wrong. When it quickly changed to a look of intense, absolute pleasure, he sighed--inwardly, and very deeply--with relief.

In the excitement that followed, he forgot to ask Marcy about Andrew.
A Non-Existent User

Marcy fussily began to fan out an exquisite bunch of flowers into a crystal vase that sat upon an antique chest of drawers, just inside the main entrance to her house as the late evening rays of the sun shone through the stained glass window atop the front door. In the background, the food was being laid out upon the buffet table, that had seen the inside of her front room so often that it barely had time to attract dust before it was being hauled out again for another function. Jonathan laid out plates of food in a dazzling array of colours whilst Charmaine adorned the crisp white tablecloth with accoutrements, remaining strangely demure and awkward in the presence of her grandson by marriage.

In stark contrast to the planning party of the previous week, there was a skeleton staff of servants and the few that there were busied themselves in moving furniture and ensuring that anything any guest in the Doowright house could possibly wish for would be at arms reach, whether that arm was a visitor or a servant. Margaret stood by the front door with her back against the wall by the stairs, her fingers absently playing with the pearl necklace that hung down low around her elegant neck, watching Marcy intently. One of Margaret's many skills was that she was perceptive, incredibly so, not that anybody noticed least of all Margaret herself. Usually this manifested itself in the darker side of humanity and experience, a strange lump found in the breast, the almost invisible tell of a loved ones lies–the subtle shift in an adulterous husband's behaviour. The flowers had to be from Chosten, and with Chosten the flowers were always an afterthought to the note, a convenient and warmer envelope than anything in manilla.

“Why are you looking at me?” Whilst she was still fussing with the flowers, Marcy idly toyed with them, twisting a delicate stalk between her fingers before letting it fall back into place. Margaret crossed the gap between the two of them slowly, the harsh sound of her heels absorbed by the softness of the porch rug. Even though her shoes had the most modest of wedges, it was the first time that she had worn a heel of any sort since...she and Judah had split.

“I was just thinking how amazing you are.” Marcy laughed softly to herself, the end of which seemed to trail off into a sigh.

“I suppose the guests will be arriving soon.” Marcy said absently, glancing back toward the buffet table where Charmaine set the different dishes and cutlery in place with Jonathan following behind, setting them correctly.

“I suppose so.” Margaret said, a smile lingering on her lips as she watched the young Mrs Windsor and her grandson by marriage moving in an awkward symmetry.

“I hope that Lilah doesn't come.” Marcy said disdainfully. Margaret laughed to herself as she glanced back at her friend.

“Free food and a house to dissect from top to bottom? I don't like your chances.”

“Margaret, why are you my friend?” As she spoke, Marcy's hands fell still, resting on top of the small table that the flowers sat upon, her eyes still downcast.

“Why am I your friend?” Margaret parroted back slowly, turning to face Marcy.

“I'm doing to Chosten what Judah did to you. You must have thought of that, surely?” Marcy said in a soft yet bold tone. “You hate Judah for what he did to you and yet you still call me a friend. Why?” Margaret raised a hand to her chin and frowned to herself, glancing away from Marcy. In all honesty, the thought had never even crossed her mind.

“It's different.”


“It just is.”

“Would you ladies care to inspect the buffet table?” Charmaine said airily as she wafted toward them. “I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.” Margaret had never been gladder of an interruption in her life.

“Of course.” Marcy said warmly, clasping Charmaine's hand in her own before looping it through her arm. Margaret followed slowly, only casually noting the envelope that had been sent with the flowers lying face down and still sealed by the vase, with the blooms that shot heavenward in them.

The guests arrived at a variety of times as parties were a much less formal affair than the weekly meetings that the ladies of Rodenberry attended. Lilah was one of the later attendees and the only one to pass comment on the guest of honours absence. Marcy simply ignored her. The evening had shaped up to be a huge success, due in no small part to Jonathan and his creations, both of which had garnered a great deal of attention. A wonderful chef, a handsome man and a Windsor by genealogy was enough to get most of the women frothing at the mouth, if not by lust then the potential for gossip about his sickly grandfather. Charmaine seemed sidelined by the other women, with Jonathan awkwardly handling the attention from the masses, whilst Charmaine herself commanded her own troupe of admirers. As so often happened at such parties, the real reason for the gathering was swallowed up by more trivial matters. Marcy herself seemed to enjoy sinking into the background and mingling, leaving Charmaine and Jonathan to the spotlight.

Toward the end of the evening, the doorbell rang for the final time and seeing that Marcy was busy Margaret took it upon herself to answer it. Opening the door slowly Margaret locked eyes with the one person next to Judah that she least expected to see. The same flash of recognition swept over the young man's face as he looked at her before a brief silence descended.

“Hello Frank.” Margaret said coldly.

“Hello Mrs Schvitsenheimer.” Although he met her gaze without repentance, he at least had the dignity to sound a little ashamed, unlike their previous meeting.

“Mrs Grey.” Margaret corrected him, only reprimanding herself slightly for the small exaggeration. The marriage was all but finalised, bar the ceremony. “I've re-married.”

“Oh. I see.” Frank said simply. “That must be nice.” Margaret's gaze took on the icy countenance of her voice. “I don't mean to intrude, but I need to talk to Mrs Doowright. It's about Andrew.”

“I really don't think this is a good time, and to be frank...Frank...I don't see how it's any of your business.”

“Andrew's in hospital. He's been attacked.”

“I see. You'd better come in.”

Margaret stood aside and let Frank in, her eyes following him as he slunk slowly inside. Stopping as he reached the entrance hall and the curious eyes of the guests, he turned and looked to Margaret for guidance. “Of course, where are my manners.” Margaret said, stalking toward him circling around to stand on the far side of him. “I should introduce you to everyone.”

“That really isn't...”

“Oh, I think it is.” Margaret said sharply, clapping her hands frantically, her eyes shooting wildly around the room. “May I have your attention please.” All eyes fell upon Margaret, who relied on her momentum and adrenaline to carry on, refusing herself the time to think things through. Marcy and Jonathan of all people exchanged worried looks as Charmaine looked at her obliviously. “I would like you all to meet Frank. He is the man who fellated my husband and ended our marriage.” Whilst a few eyes bulged in recognition of his name, there wasn't a shocked face or a wry smile absent as Margaret finished her sentence. Frank somehow managed to raise his arm and give the smallest of waves, despite the absolute horror on his face.

Marcy made her way over to the pair of them with a warm smile on her face, whilst the other party guests exchanged looks and frantic words. “That was quite a performance,” she said wryly.

“Frank is here to talk to you. It's about Andrew.” The smile quickly fled her lips as Marcy inclined her head, her eyes darting back to the house full of guests ever so quickly.

“I see. You had better come through to the kitchen.” Frank scuttled ahead at Marcy's insistence, taking baby steps toward the door. As Frank entered the kitchen, Marcy shut the door behind the two of them before resting her gaze on her visitor.

“Nice kitchen.”

“Thank you.”

“New England dinner set?”


“Good choice.”

“Has Andrew decided to send his friends to harass me as well now?” Marcy said, folding her arms.

“He's in hospital. Someone beat him up two nights ago.”

“Oh.” Marcy said, glancing away to admire her dinnerware. “I thought that he had finally given up.”

“But don't worry, he's fine.” Frank said pointedly, glaring at Marcy.

“Oh right, yes.” Marcy said distractedly. Shifting the weight from one foot to another, Marcy flicked her eyes back toward Frank. “Is that all?” Frank snorted, and walked toward the kitchen door.

“Yes. Yes, that's all.” He said, pausing at the door. “You might want to think about who would want to hurt him though.” With that, Frank left. As the night dragged on, Marcy mingled and talked to the guests and when she grew tired of doing so sat outside for a time on her porch, with her phone in her hand. Brushing a hand through her hair, Marcy cursed herself and punched the numbers in quickly before she changed her mind. It only rang a couple of times.

“Good evening, the Continental Hotel, how may I help you?”

“Yes, good evening.” Marcy said before, pausing ever so slightly. “Could you put me through to Chosten Doowright's room?”

“I'm afraid that Mr Doowright isn't in his room right now.” The woman replied quickly on the other end of the phone.

“Has he been there for the last few days?” Marcy swore at herself and her careless questions, all the while nervously awaiting the answer. The woman on the other end fell silent for a moment.

“I saw yesterday evening leaving with a client.”

“Yesterday evening.” Marcy parroted back, relieved. “Thank you.” Marcy hung up the phone, the sounds from the woman as she did so sounding like little more than background static, and returned to the party. Although she felt relieved, something about the call didn't quite make sense. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but Chosten was a clever man–an adversary in as many ways as a husband–and he would go to great, sublime lengths to hide what he wanted hidden. Instead of returning to the party, Marcy got into her car and headed to the hospital.

Charmaine Williams had become quite a fixture to the people of Rodenberry Woods. Not only was she young, beautiful, and the hottest, ineligible woman around, she was also the close confidant of two of Rodenberry’s most intriguing residents, an adored actress and the neighborhood milf. She was the latest addition Rodenberry had had in quite some time, as it was extremely exclusive. Now the neighborhood had a new resident, the unfamiliar Hamilton Grey, and a fresh visitor, the oddly fascinating Jonathan Williams. It was highly debated whether the gold-digger deserved such attention, but no one doubted the fact that she was indeed, digging for gold.

But at one time in life, Charmaine had been the small, overlooked daughter of the famously rich, Ancil and Valere Duvrear. Her family did not start wealthy, though. A stubborn tradition of being exceedingly frugal and an enduring affinity for wine created the industrious and affluent Duvrear clan. Son after son expanded the name and business, eventually bringing Duvrear Wine & Delicacies from France and other European countries to America. And so the tradition continued, but not with Charmaine. No, her elder brother Jesper received that opportunity. In fact, to the Duvrears, women acted as little more than a well-dressed accessory for the businessmen of the family, and of course, they did their part in producing more sons.

Growing up, looking good is all Charmaine was taught to do. You had to in order to nab a husband; though, it was required he be someone who would fit into the family business. Needless to say, when Charmaine, at the ripe age of 16, ran away with an up-and-coming photographer to flee to America, Ancil and Valere were not impressed. Fortunately, she managed to clean out her bank account; for, the next morning, it was suddenly closed.

Darien Mercer was the sensitive artist type, but being a New Yorker through and through gave him a tough edge. He was the real reason for Charmaine’s fortune. She had money from her family, but knew she needed to earn her own. Just shy of a decade older than her, Darien discovered Charmaine and made her his muse. At such a young age, she was perfect for the modeling industry. Perhaps the lessons of her family would help her after all. Darien and Charmaine made each other rich and lived together for years. As soon as her 25th birthday rolled around, Charmaine wasn’t receiving as many calls for photo shoots or fashion shows. And by her 27th birthday, both Darien and the industry had kicked her out. It had become a somewhat guilty pastime of Charmaine’s to think back on her days of fame and fortune. And as fate would have it, when she moved to Rodenberry, she found that Margaret could relate. In some ways, they were kindred souls, understanding each other’s hopes and fears.

Even as a formerly successful model, Charmaine found it increasingly difficult to find a new job. Eventually, work as a cocktail waitress led her right into the arms of Windsor Williams. He had just lost his wife, and with the few live friends he had left, visiting lounges had become a common function. She immediately put her claim on the elderly man, always being the one to serve his table. If she was to be someone’s accessory, why not for someone who wouldn’t leave her? Who wouldn’t kick her out? Although there had been love between them, Darien’s heart would only beat for her as long as she was able to keep him rich. It was clear that Windsor’s health was touch-and-go. This was her opportunity. Now it was her turn.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Charmaine had learned that Jonathan was a dessert chef, it had stirred odd memories inside. The family business had remained simply Duvrear Wine until her father expanded into pastries and desserts, in which case the lovely & Delicacies portion was promptly added. Surely, her brother Jesper, who adored and mimicked every move of Ancil’s, had continued to develop that part of the business in both the European and American wings of the company. It was an amusing thing that Jonathan knew his dessert, for Charmaine definitely knew her wine. That had been one of her most appealing, non-physical qualities to Darien.

She quickly brushed her thoughts away as she slowed down from her morning jog. She ran three miles every other morning, making sure to skip Tuesdays and Thursdays for tea club meetings. After sampling all of Jonathon’s dishes at Marcy’s party the previous night, Charmaine had awoken extra early to work off the calories. Craning her neck, Charmaine entered the house from the patio, breaking open the massive French doors that led into the dining room. As soon as she entered, a fresh, enticing aroma wafted up to greet her.

Charmaine had a cook, but barely used him because well, she didn’t eat very often. But the smell made her suddenly realize that her stomach was growling. She rounded the corner to face the granite counters and stainless steel appliances—the kitchen was one of the few rooms she had demanded be updated. She was only slightly surprised to see Jonathan standing over the stove, making what appeared to be omelets. Charmaine about fell over from the culmination of the sight and smell of the food. She quickly held onto the counter for balance.

“Hey, you’re here,” Jonathan greeted as he flipped the contents of the pan onto two plates. “I hope you’re hungry. I wanted to help out around here, since I’m staying and all.”

“That’s very kind,” Charmaine said, taking a moment to stand. Jonathan wore a simple pair of jeans with a clean, white button-up shirt; a black apron was strung loosely around his waist. His red hair was curled as usual, but was still damp from his morning shower.

Charmaine paused at the sight of him; standing before her was Windsor’s grandson, and as he stood there in the Williams’ kitchen, he just seemed to fit perfectly. She smiled slightly, adding, “You helping with Marcy’s party was already enough, but breakfast sounds fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I had any.”

“You don’t eat breakfast?” Jonathan asked, seemingly shocked by the idea. He brought the plates over to the island counter and seated himself on a stool. Charmaine came and sat next to him. “You do realize that’s the most important meal of the day, right? Well, aside from dessert,” he joked. The brunette merely shrugged in response, inadvertently causing the redhead’s eyes to steal a glance at the smooth skin of her shoulders and neck. Though she was married and touching was supposedly off-limits, looking was always allowed. And in classic Charmaine-style, even her jogging apparel turned heads.

“Yes, I’ve heard that before,” she replied as she stabbed at the eggs and slowly slid the fork into her mouth. Jonathan was about to speak but stopped when he heard Charmaine moan. He was worried and wasn’t quite sure if this was good or bad, or even normal for that matter. He then realized this was a sound of pleasure. Equally disturbed and flattered, he silently finished his breakfast. Jonathan then remembered the “date” he had with her to prepare one of his specialty desserts. Honestly, he had enjoyed Charmaine’s reaction to his Dionel dessert last night, and he was curious to see how she’d react to the new dish he had in mind. At this thought, it was futile to fight the small smile that formed on his lips.

Charmaine was oblivious to the grin on her new housemate’s face, for she was occupied by thoughts of her own. Though she ate a tantalizing confection of eggs, spices and cheeses, she tasted only the white chocolate and blueberry filling of Jonathan’s Dionel. But as she sat there, the woman whose days of glory and love were mere memories of the past realized that, for some reason, she craved more.

Just then the clear ringing of the phone echoed throughout the first floor, and a servant immediately picked it up. After some murmured words in the living room, the butler entered the kitchen and handed the phone off to Charmaine. She politely nodded and smiled, slowly taking the phone into her delicate hands. “Marcy, hey, what’s going on?” She asked, both confusion and concern evident in her voice.

“Charmaine, I’m so glad you’re home,” her friend spoke over the line. “I’m well, a bit detained for the moment, and I need a favor.” Charmaine’s heart welled for Marcy, remembering the difficult issue she was dealing with. Last night at the party, shortly after Frank’s arrival, Marcy had pulled Charmaine and Margaret into a separate room to explain the situation. The possibility that Chosten was behind Andrew’s attack was upsetting, and it was an extremely unwelcome thought that had crept into and plagued their minds. Later Marcy had seemingly disappeared, and the girls both had a feeling they knew where she had gone.

“His flight arrives in two hours,” Marcy said to a dazed Charmaine. “I know he’d be so glad to see you again. If you could pick him up, I’d greatly appreciate it.” Marcy continued to explain, giving Charmaine the proper time and gate number for the flight. The younger woman dutifully wrote it down, though her mind was reeling. “It’s his last break before graduation, so he wanted to come see us all. Please Charmaine, it would mean a lot to Jeremy and to me.”

Charmaine hesitantly agreed. If Marcy had not had a more pressing issue to deal with, she would’ve probably tried to excuse herself from helping. Jeremy was a charming, intelligent young man, who shared some of Marcy and Chosten’s most appealing and distinct traits. He was athletic and hard working, having played baseball ever since the sixth grade, and it was clear to Rodenberry’s residents that he had a good life ahead of him. When Charmaine first met him, he had just begun his sophomore year at USC. Now Jeremy’s graduation was arriving, and Charmaine marveled at how quickly the years had gone by.

“So, Jeremy is Marcy’s oldest son?” Jonathon asked as they sped down on the highway to the airport.

“Yeah, he’s a good kid,” Charmaine replied. She immediately cringed, a sense of guilt immediately washing over her. “He hasn’t been home since the holidays, so Marcy will be thrilled to see him. She asked that I, or we, entertain him until she returns home. She doesn’t want him to come to an empty house since Chosten and the other kids are away still.”

Jonathon didn’t understand Charmaine’s sudden unease, but it was easy to detect that she was anxious. He didn’t want to inquire as to why the presence of Marcy’s son was a problem, and he had a feeling it was best that he didn’t know. “Well, you said he was a baseball player. We could go to the batting cages or something. I barely remember my twenties, so I have no idea what’d he want to do.”

Charmaine tried to muster up a convincing smile. She really was glad that Jonathan was trying to help. She knew he had no idea why she was apprehensive about the situation. If he did, he would not be so eager to help. The idea of going to bat a few balls sounded good, but Charmaine could picture the situation becoming uncomfortable. In fact, a similar occasion had already occurred. Last summer when Jeremy visited, Windsor had been getting worse and Charmaine was admittedly lonely. Marcy had been thrilled when as a gift, Charmaine took Jeremy to a baseball game for his 21st birthday. Afterwards at the park, they went to the batting cages. It didn’t take long for Jeremy to insist on improving Charmaine’s batting stance, and suddenly, the married woman found herself wrapped in the strong, warm arms of her best friend’s son.

It was supposed to be a one-time deal. In fact, Jeremy was just as aware of what an awful idea it would be for the two of them to pursue anything further than they already had. But when Thanksgiving weekend came around, a mutual game of footsie under the table had sent the wrong message. For Christmas, Jeremy seemed to forget that Charmaine’s life could be on the line, and sought out a moment under the mistletoe. They had only slept together once, on his 21st birthday, but Charmaine couldn’t risk it happening again.

More so, she couldn’t risk anyone suspecting or Jeremy ratting them out. Not only would Marcy kill her, but it would be the deepest of disappointments for the residents of Rodenberry to know that Charmaine had cheated, even if only once, on the beloved Windsor Williams. It pained Charmaine when she had realized what she’d done to Windsor. Though he would never know, it would be with her forever. And now, as she pulled into the parking garage of the airport, Charmaine had another person to think of. If Jonathon knew what she had done, she feared what his reaction would be. For some reason, she felt his disappointment would hurt her the most.

It wasn’t entirely true that Jonathan barely remembered his twenties. It was true enough that there was no baseball involved—Jonathan had an aversion to most competitive sports, a particularly unfortunate twist of fate given the fact that most of the men in his family generally flocked around the television for any Knicks game or Super Bowl. In fact, he honestly wasn’t that eager to spend the day entertaining a die-hard baseball lover, especially if it meant more time away from his grandfather. Charmaine seemed uneasy about it herself.

Jeremy certainly seemed pleased enough when he saw Charmaine at the airport. He was more or less exactly as she had described him—tall and well-built, with brown hair cropped very short, he was clearly Marcy’s son. He was carrying several large bags, at least one of which was full of nothing but baseballs, bats, sneakers and gloves. Very enthusiastically, he ran over, embraced Charmaine as one would an intimate friend, shook Jonathan’s hand with a crushing grip, and hefted as many bags into the air as he could hold. Jonathan grabbed the last two bags as Jeremy followed Charmaine in the direction of the car. The first item on Jeremy’s agenda was to go home and unpack everything, so Jonathan gave up his seat to Jeremy and sat in the back.

“Hey, Jonathan, I’m sorry about your grandfather.”

Yesterday, Jonathan would have been a little surprised to hear this from Jeremy, someone he’d never met before. But yesterday, he had been flooded with condolences from what seemed like a hundred people—some of whom Jonathon knew well as friends and business associates of his grandfather, some of whom were so unfamiliar that even Charmaine hadn’t been able to help him with their names. He had forgotten how far stories traveled in Rodenberry Woods by word of mouth alone.

“Thanks,” he said. “It’s been hard, but I’ve had enough time to deal with it.”

But Jeremy had already moved on to another topic. “So, where are we headed after I drop my bags off?”

“That’s your choice, Jeremy,” said Charmaine, glancing up at the overcast sky. “Jonathon was thinking you might like to go to the batting cages, but, really, anything you want is fine with us.”

Unfortunately, as soon as they pulled into the Doowright house, the rain started. It fell hard; after about fifteen minutes, the rain was so thick that even when Jonathon pressed his face against the windowpane he couldn’t see a foot outside. Jeremy was aghast. “Oh, just perfect! What the hell are we going to do now? Watch television? Play a board game?” He stood despondently in front of the back window, overlooking the back porch where the Doowright’s enormous swimming pool was located. Fortunately, one of the servants had already drawn a tarp over it, which was being pelted so hard with rain that it sounded like the beating of a drum.

Fortunately, Charmaine saved the day. “Well, if you can just make it out to the car, we can drive over to our house. It’s not that much of a step up, I admit, but at least we have an indoor pool.”

* * * * *

Jeremy, to his credit, clearly had a good eye for art. His manner was very reverent as he passed through the hallway, taking in all of the paintings, sculptures and antique furniture the Williams house had to offer. Jonathon was grateful; most of the decorations had been chosen by his late grandmother, and it was nice to see someone acknowledge her, at least once and a while, even if they only knew about her through Charmaine.

“Well, he seems to be having a pretty good time,” said Jonathon to Charmaine. They talked out of Jeremy’s earshot, following behind him as he explored. “Where did Marcy go again for the day?”

“I’m not really sure,” admitted Charmaine. “She had some important business to attend to. Only Margaret and I even know about that; she said she was only comfortable telling her close friends.

The word “close” rang a bell in Jonathon’s head; suddenly he remembered the question that had been bugging him since his first time visiting Mrs. Doowright’s house. “Hey,” he asked Charmaine. “Does Marcy know a guy named Andrew?”

He watched her expression, half-expecting her face to light up as she recognized the name. Instead, her eyes went wide. “Why do you ask?”

“Hey, what’s up with this?” Jeremy interrupted, and they both followed his voice into the next hallway.

Jeremy was interested in a large painting, hanging in the room that had formerly been Windsor’s study—before he had lost the capacity to study anything. It was a portrait of Jonathon—masterfully painted, it was unanimously agreed, in a brilliant yet simple style—but it was most unusual in the fact that it was the only painting on the wall. Flanking it on all sides were photograph portraits: photos of Jonathon’s parents, his cousins, him and his siblings, and even his two nieces, the eldest of whom was only three. Since that portrait of Jonathon was the only painting that had been done in the last fifty years, it kind of caught the eye—especially in its place amid all those photos.

“It’s very… impressive,” said Charmaine. “Jonathon, I bet there’s an interesting story behind that.”

Jonathon nodded, chuckling. “‘Interesting’ is definitely the word I’d use…”

As a boy, Jonathon had always wanted to paint, and when he was about 21 and a sophomore in college he decided to finally learn how. Hence, one day Jonathon sat down at the easel in a small, windowless college art studio, and got ready to paint a nude female model seated on the pedestal in front of him. No sooner had he lifted brush to canvas, however, than he became aware of a sudden, agonizing truth—hecouldn’t paint. It wasn’t something that lessons or practice could help with; he just couldn’t.

Face burning, he froze up completely, and sat there for several minutes in total silence, afraid to even move or make a sound. Finally, the model became aware of his lack of motion, and—after he had confessed his problem—she kindly got down from her seat and showed him how to make the basic brush strokes. Jonathon asked her to show him more, and even got up so that she could reach the canvas better. By the end of the session, the woman—still without a stitch of clothing—had moved in front of the easel, and Jonathon—still clothed—had sat down on the pedestal to be her model.

* * * * *

The rain was still falling that evening, and thunder had been heard several times. Charmaine had just run off to answer the phone, and Jonathon and Jeremy were in the kitchen eating sliced pineapple.

“Woah.” Jeremy was looking at something else hanging on the wall—not a painting, this time, but an enormous two-handed broadsword. “Has anyone ever used that thing?”

Jonathon shrugged. As far as he knew, it had always been strictly decorative. Although…
“My cousin Chester might have. He teaches fencing.”

“That must be pretty neat.”

Jonathan shook his head. “We don’t get along very well.”

“What’s the problem?”

“He’s a jerk. I hate him.”


At that moment, Charmaine came back in. “It’s your mother, Jeremy. She’s home, and she’s waiting eagerly for you.” Jeremy nodded, took the phone, and ran off.

“Is she with Chosten?” asked Jonathon, once he and Charmaine were alone.

“She didn’t say. Well?

“Well what?”

“What do you think of Jeremy?”

“I like him, actually. I wasn’t sure how well it would go, but he’s really a good kid.” He thought of asking her why Jeremy had kept smiling at her—as if he was expecting her to give him something—but decided, after her reaction to that last question, it was better if he didn’t pry into her and the Doowrights’ personal lives.

“Well, you haven’t seen the last of him for today, as it happens. Marcy invited both of us over for dinner. And I was wondering: do you think you’d have time to make a special dessert?”

“I think we can make that work.”

Twenty minutes later, Jonathan was topping a chocolate-coated crème brûlée with some fresh berries when Charmaine walked in again. Turning, he saw her in the doorway and beckoned her over. “I need a quick opinion. How’s it taste?”

He put it a small piece in front of her on a tea saucer. She took a first taste, then paused, before finishing it in two bites. “Absolutely heavenly. As always.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Jonathon. “Let me just wash your plate and we’ll go.”

“Why bother? One of the servants can take care of it; such a small plate won’t take them two minutes.”

“Oh, I don’t mind doing it myself. I did all the other dishes already anyway.”

“My God, Jonathon!” Charmaine laughed, glancing at the chocolate-coated masterpiece sitting on the table. “What could possibly have made you so distasteful of privileges like that?”

His answer was simple, frank and honest: “Living on the street for six months.”

She looked up at him. She didn’t say a word but the look on her face alone spelled out total shock. Finally, she nodded. “That would do it.” She went off to find some foil to wrap the crème brûlée in while Jonathon dried his hands with the dish towel.

There was also an interesting story behind that. Sooner or later, he’d have to tell it to her as well.

Marcy Doowright paced the foyer, waiting for her son to come home. She was, of course, excited to see her beloved Jeremy, but she was admittedly preoccupied with the events of the last few days. Andrew was in the hospital, beaten to within an inch of his life, and Chosten, so far, had no alibi for the evening of the attack. It was ridiculous to think that Chosten had any knowledge of Marcy's various indiscretions, but the seemingly endless threads of Rodenberry's spider web were twisting about her, threatening to overwhelm everything that Marcy had developed for herself. Her life, such as it was, had been easy; she'd gotten everything she wanted. A rich, loving husband who seemed willing to believe that she had remained faithful for over two decades, a beautiful eldest son who would no doubt take the offer from the Boston Red Sox to join their organization, an equally beautiful daughter whose passion for politics would make her a governor, and her baby, little Michael, whose skill with the cello would see him straight to Julliard and Carnegie Hall. Her life's work, her family. And all of this seemed desperately close to crashing down about her. Unless she could find out who had beaten Andrew and why.

Chosten had not come home yet. She'd called the hotel and he had extended his stay for two more days. That was not unexpected. Her husband often extended his business trips if he felt something was likely to come of it. He, himself, had been at the Continental the night of the attack, so it could not have been him. But Chosten was more than capable of having someone beaten without getting his own hands dirty. She'd checked all of his accounts--even the secret ones that she was not supposed to know about--and they showed nothing unusual. No large amounts of money disappearing or appearing, no interesting charges. Nothing. Marcy was beginning to believe that Chosten had yet another account that she knew nothing about. Yet another proof of their farce of a marriage. Marcy just wondered who his lovers were.

And then there was Andrew, who'd clawed at her when she'd visited him in the hospital. Who'd come dangerously near to tears and screaming when she'd stood to leave. Who was clearly hanging dangerously close to a psychotic break, if only in Marcy's opinion.

The door slammed open, pulling Marcy out of her reverie. In came Jeremy, her strapping eldest boy Twenty-two, as old now as she'd been when she'd had him, and unbelievably handsome. Marcy smiled softly, thinking about the chemistry between him and Charmaine. It was clear that the boy worshiped the elder woman, who would, admittedly, be admitted into the ranks of Cougarville within the next few years. It was equally clear that the former model was similarly attached to the young athlete. Marcy wasn't sure if the two had ever consummated the tension; she hoped that she could trust Charmaine enough not to do something incredibly stupid. Jeremy would become entirely too attached to a woman who showed him such sexual favors, being young and untried. Marcy made a promise to herself to ask what had happened between the two. She needed to know. Such details would make it easier to piece her life back together.

"Mother!" Jeremy wrapped his arms around Marcy and twirled her through the air. "Oh, mother!" Putting her back down, Jeremy kissed Marcy's cheek, but kept her wrapped in a tight hug that she returned with equal warmth. She loved her children more than anything. Even herself, and especially Chosten. This situation came dangerously close to hurting them, and as such, she would do everything in her power to stop it. Everything.

Especially since the details pointed to a very surprising conclusion. Unless something else popped up to change her opinion, she was going to remain convinced of what she had found. It was the why and the how of it that continued to elude her, although even the why was not that hard to surmise. The boy was entirely too capable to doing something like this to keep Marcy entangled into his being. Marcy was too smart to be tricked. A few trips to the hospital had convinced her.

Andrew had gotten himself beaten up and tried to blame it on Chosten. Marcy was convinced of it.

Now she just had to prove it. Before her children found out and everything came crashing down around her.

A leisurely, lingering warmth had swept through the neighborhood as May turned into June. However, as the days dragged on, it warped into a stale, sweltering heat that encumbered the residents’ abilities to gossip idly in the boiling pot that was the top floor of the Rodenberry Lodge. Therefore, despite its occurrence nearly two weeks earlier, faints whispers of the attack on Marcy’s most devoted boyfriend wafted through the air near the community pool instead.

Boasting pale freckled skin and curvy broad hips, Lilah Vondoran proudly strutted her fleshy take on an itsy-bitsy yellow polka dot bikini across the impeccably painted white wooden deck that surrounded the Rodenberry pool area. “Heya ladies,” she barked in between the loud smacking of her lips—a brilliant shade of pink to match the hours-old gum trapped inside.

“Hi Lilah…” was the reluctantly muttered response issued in unison by the three friends. Not taking the hint, Lilah abruptly perched herself on the edge of Margaret’s lounge chair. Being too polite to ignore or criticize, Margaret decided to oblige the woman’s pushiness. “So, what brings you here on this fine day?” She inquired, mustering as much interest in her voice as possible.

“Well, I simply wanted to see how Marcy here is holding up,” Lilah answered, moving her black shades to rest on top of her chestnut hair. “It must be hard not knowing who might’ve attacked poor Alex.” For Lilah’s sake, it was fortunate that Marcy had downed a few daiquiris already.

“His name is Andrew,” Marcy stated simply, reaching for the sugar-frosted glass sitting on the table nearby.

“Oh, it was Andrew that was attacked? My mistake,” Lilah replied, playfully shoving Margaret as she spoke to the three ladies. “But who could blame me, it’s so hard to keep track, now isn’t it?” Lilah’s lips twisted into what was surely more of a sneer than a smirk as she stood, pulled her sunglasses back down and walked off to chat with some other club members.

“Oh, can you believe her?!” Charmaine seethed as she downed the rest of her margarita, hurriedly tossing the tiny pink umbrella over her shoulder.

Margaret nodded in agreement; though, she understood her friend’s frustration most likely came from a slightly different source. Not only had Lilah been dragging out the news about Marcy’s boyfriend, she had also passed along quiet whispers concerning a certain dying man’s grandson and said grandson’s proximity to the dying man’s wife. Charmaine didn’t have the patience to deal with Lilah or her idle gossip. Windsor was clearly getting worse, so in-home nurses were now required all hours of the day. Despite this news, the rest of Windsor’s family still refused to visit him. They would not come until Charmaine was gone, and they were disappointed in Jonathan for staying under the same roof as “that greedy, conniving tramp.” Additionally, Jeremy’s visit had been temporarily unnerving because the boy’s attachment to Charmaine was very easy to see. Charmaine knew Marcy would not be happy to hear it, but that was not who she feared most finding out. Though Jeremy was gone, the presence of those troubling rumors was still lurking beneath the surface.

Marcy just sighed, too exhausted to even care about Lilah’s intrusive behavior. As if the attack on Andrew wasn’t tiring enough, her brief suspicion of Chosten had made things even worse. However, after he had returned from a business trip, Marcy had gauged her husband’s behavior to determine his possible involvement in her boyfriend’s assault. As she had shared with her friends, it just didn’t seem possible. The man had attempted to rush through all his meetings and engagements in order to make it home to see Jeremy. If there was something Chosten loved more than winning cases and, of course, his wife, it was his children. She had also considered that Andrew had gotten himself beaten up in order to frame Chosten and win back her favor. But was he really capable of that? She didn't think Andrew was a bad guy. He had just, unfortunately, fallen in love with someone who was not able to love him back.

“It has to be someone else,” Marcy thought aloud. “I just don’t understand who would go after Andrew. Sure, he’s a little too…devoted. But I remember what he was like when we first met. He was just so easy to talk to and to…well, you know.” A small smirk itched at the edges of her lips. Sure, things had veered off course between her and Andrew, but it hadn’t always been that way. Andrew couldn’t have enemies, not unless Chosten knew about his wife’s affairs, which didn’t seem likely.

“Well, do you know anything else about Andrew?” Charmaine inquired, leaning forward in her lounge chair. “I mean, who does he spend time with when he’s not with you? Or did you guys never discuss that?”

Marcy thought for a moment. She and Andrew did have conversations about their lives. She never backed down from talking about her children; though, she did avoid mentioning her husband. But Andrew…? He usually listened and rarely talked; it was something she had appreciated about him at the time.

“Wait—who was it that told you about Andrew’s condition? I remember seeing him. Surely, he is close to Andrew; maybe he knows something,” the former model rationalized in an attempt to help the housewife sort through the matter concerning her boyfriend. For Charmaine, it was a welcome distraction from facing the escalating predicament steadily growing between herself and her current houseguest.

“That was Frank,” Margaret answered glumly. She remembered her instant surprise at seeing her ex-husband’s personal assistant turned secret lover on the Doowright’s doorstep. More surprising, however, had been the news that spread in the wake of Frank’s sudden visit. Since that evening, it had continued to quietly haunt the residents of Rodenberry Woods.

“Oh Margaret, I’m so sorry—” Marcy began, quickly setting her glass down and reaching out to her friend. She and Charmaine both knew how difficult it had been for their friend to get past the betrayal and humility she felt when Judah cheated on her. Just the thought of Margaret’s pain made Marcy feel a pang of guilt. The conversation she and Margaret shared briefly the night of Frank’s arrival echoed in her ears. Contemplating what had been left unspoken that evening, she bit at her lip and furrowed her brows. Does Margaret really believe that what Judah did to her is different from what Marcy was currently doing to Chosten? And, is it really?

Though the former actress’ responsive smile was weak, that did not make it any less genuine. Instead, it was a gentle smile that expressed both appreciation and peace. “It’s okay,” Margaret replied. She grabbed both of her friends’ hands and held them in her own. “I have moved on,” she continued, clearly referring to the new man in her life who had seemed to really help the starlet turn her life around. Though, Marcy and Charmaine could only assume as they had yet to meet the mysterious Hamilton Grey. “I’m so grateful for friends like you, and I am lucky to have a man who truly loves me,” she stated confidently, giving her friends’ hands a quick, reassuring squeeze. “Girls, I am finally happy, and nothing is going to get in the way of that.”

Charmaine’s lovely features bore an expression of intrigue, her scarlet lips twisted into a sly smile and her dark brown eyes dazzling with interest. “Well then, in that case,” she started, receiving an encouraging nod from Marcy, “I think it’s about time we meet this man of yours.”

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Flicking open his cell phone, Hamilton saw a familiar number flash across the screen. He accepted the call and brought the phone to his ear. “Talk to me,” he said simply, his eyes scanning the surrounding area to ensure that he was alone. He stood in Margaret’s backyard, next to the pool. Ironically, she was at the Rodenberry community pool with some of the friends of whom she so often spoke. Listening to the voice on the other line, Hamilton chuckled slightly. “Someone has quite a sharp tongue, doesn’t he? How many ‘Hail Mary’s’ will this cost, eh?”

Hamilton knew the time was coming. He had been working on his current job for months now. He had been gathering the necessary information as commanded to meet his client’s needs. However, Hamilton did something he did not expect. He got distracted. He got involved. And he made a mistake.

“It seems you are entangling yourself with the wrong housewife, and as a result, you chose to take on some extracurricular activities,” the voice accused coolly. “Remember, she is a means to an end—a way to gain access into Rodenberry so you can learn more about the target. You should not have invested your time in seeking rev—”

“—well, your methods are clearly not working, seeing how I’ve been told to avoid meeting them!” Hamilton suddenly snapped in reply, interrupting the other man’s lecture. “Besides, I didn’t do it myself. I hired someone.” Dropping his head in disappointment, he added quietly, “It doesn’t even matter; they got the wrong guy.”

“It’s in the past, so forget about it. I am not paying you to set petty vendettas against an insignificant—wait, what was he? An accountant? What a joke,” the man mocked. He then turned, his voice taking on a threatening tone. “He’s not going anywhere in life, and neither will you if you don’t get the job done. Integration is the next step.”

“Meaning?” Hamilton inquired, an edge of frustration still evident in his voice.

“It’s time for you to meet your fiancée’s friends,” he calmly explained. “This is the final step in confirming the information necessary to bring the target down.”

“Fine,” Hamilton responded, gritting his teeth.

“Also, keep an eye on the visitor,” the man added knowingly as Hamilton attempted to figure out to whom he was referring. “Don’t underestimate him. He’s smart.”

© Copyright 2007 Aiken4LOTR, Professor Q, xx-xx, JoeStrong, xx-xx, Dominique, (known as GROUP).
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