Love Letters from Ladybug Farm (6 page)

BOOK: Love Letters from Ladybug Farm
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“Maybe,” Bridget agreed, after a time. She did not sound convinced. “But what if it does mean something? She doesn’t have any relatives. We’re the ones responsible for her, have you thought about that? I mean, in case, you know, decisions have to be made.”
“Why don’t we just wait awhile before we leap to conclusions,” Cici suggested.
Lindsay frowned into her wine. “We sure are responsible for a lot, aren’t we?”
“Comes with the girl suit,” Cici said. “Has there ever been a time in your life when you weren’t responsible for a lot?”
From somewhere deep within the house, the telephone rang. But none of the women moved to get up.
“Noah will take a message.”
“Or the answering machine will pick up.”
Upstairs, a window slid open. “It’s Lori,” Noah called down.
“Tell her I’ll call her back,” Cici returned, tilting her head so her voice would carry.
The window closed.
Bridget said, leaning back in her chair, “Being a celebrity is exhausting.”
Lindsay agreed, “Who knew?”
Cici considered that for a moment. “Good thing we’re up to the task.”
The three women allowed themselves a reflective moment, which slowly turned into a shared grin. They raised their glasses.
“Here’s to us.”
June 3, 2001
 
 
My darling—
 
 
There was a little blue bird in a bush outside my window today, and I thought of you. I had lunch in the park and watched some children trying to launch a toy boat in the pond, and I thought of you. I watched two young lovers holding hands on the street, and I thought about you.
I think about you all the time, and I love you. That’s all I wanted to say. That I love you.
4
Dreams Coming True
Catherine North-Dere and her daughter Traci arrived with Paul at quarter to one.
Traci was a tall, model-thin girl with shoulder-length feathery blond hair and salon-tan legs that were displayed to perfection in khaki walking shorts and three-inch wedge sandals. An immaculately fitted rolled-cuff white shirt and a wool navy blazer casually tossed over her shoulders, along with a gold cuff bracelet, dangle earrings, and a messenger bag—Coach, naturally—completed her “afternoon in the country” look.
Yet it wasn’t until she removed her designer sunglasses that Cici, Bridget, and Lindsay actually ventured a guess as to which was the daughter, and which was the mother.
Catherine’s blond hair was a shade darker and a bit thicker than her daughter’s. It was also more immaculately styled, curving perfectly toward the face at the shoulders to reveal realistic-looking honey-colored low lights. She wore custom-fitted boyfriend jeans, cuffed to display slim ankles and leopard-print heels, with a sand colored, form-fitting T-shirt and a black silk jacket with ruffled lapels. The diamond on her finger was three carats, minimum; her watch Piaget.
“Now
that,”
murmured Lindsay in unabashed appreciation, “is some kick-ass Botox.”
Cici shrugged, her arms folded. “I could look like that if I wanted to.”
Lindsay stifled a guffaw. “You and what army?”
Cici elbowed her hard in the ribs, glaring.
“I’ll bet she spends more on her hairstylist every month than I spent on my first car,” Bridget observed, a little awed.
“This is what I’m saying,” Cici replied. “All it takes is money.”
“And a personal trainer,” added Lindsay.
“And the ability to live on about three hundred calories a day” observed Bridget, and Cici scowled at her.
“But,” added Bridget, “those shoes are to die for.”
On that all three of them agreed.
The three women had been up since the rooster—the one Cici threatened to place in the stew pot at least once a day—let forth his first screeching crow, and they hadn’t stopped moving since daybreak: sweeping the porch, polishing the windows, vacuuming, dusting, knocking cobwebs from under the stairs and out of the corners. Lindsay skimmed debris from the reflecting pool and swept the outdoor patios. Cici rubbed down the mahogany banister with lemon oil and built a cheery fire in the living room, which could hold a chill even this late in the season. Bridget made sure that Rebel, once he had finished arranging the sheep that made such a picturesque tableau in the distant meadow to his satisfaction, was securely locked in the barn.
They set the wicker table on the wraparound porch with an Irish linen tablecloth embroidered with pale pink roses, and used Bridget’s Haviland china and Cici’s sterling, and the antique napkins with hand-tatted edges that Lindsay had brought back from Germany. The centerpiece was a crystal vase of ruffled pink apple blossoms.
“So, we have a few less apples this fall,” Bridget had said with a shrug as she arranged the stems. “The tree needed pruning anyway.”
Ida Mae had grumbled about making such a fuss over a couple of no-account city folks they didn’t even know, anyhow, and Lindsay countered tartly, “My mother always said that strangers are the only people worth making a fuss over, since you’re not going to change anyone else’s opinion of you. Besides, you’re the one who always irons the dish towels when company is coming.”
Now, as the elder Ms. North-Dere also removed her sunglasses and swept a slow, assessing gaze over everything within her view, the ladies found themselves wishing they had not only ironed the dish towels, but gotten manicures and maybe pedicures as well. Cici tried to look nonchalant as she ran a hand through her own honey-blond hair, Lindsay absently patted the pockets of her jeans for a lipstick, and Bridget looked down in dismay at her canvas print overalls and scuffed white sneakers.
“We should have dressed up,” Bridget whispered.
Cici frowned uncomfortably. “It’s not high tea with the queen you know. We’re doing them a favor.”
Paul lifted his hand to them as he got out of the driver’s seat, and they waved back. He came around the car and offered an arm to each of the blondes. Paul, with his perfectly styled chestnut hair and blue eyes, always looked as though he had just stepped out of a high-priced magazine ad yet never looked out of place. He possessed the kind of effortless charm that few could resist, and these two were no exception. They wrapped their hands around his arms, laughing as he spoke to them, and he escorted them up the wide front steps onto the porch.
“Darlings,” he said with a flourish, “may I present to you the legendary Cici Burke, Lindsay Wright, and Bridget Tyndale.”
The ladies smiled and bobbed their heads in turn.
“Ladies, my pleasure to introduce Catherine North-Dere, mother of the bride, and her delightful daughter Traci.”
“Cici, Bridget, dearest Lindsay...” Catherine swept forward and caught them each into an embrace as tepid as pool water, all boney shoulders and musky perfume. “I feel I know you already! You are so good to have us out, really. Paul has told us so much about you.”
Her voice was smoky and warm and her smile seemed genuine, and the ladies relaxed a little. Cici said, “It’s our pleasure, really. We love to show off our house.”
“Well, I can certainly see why.” With a breath of pure pleasure, she surveyed the view—the tranquil sheep in the emerald meadow, blue-shadowed mountains beyond, frothy apple trees in bloom, daffodil-lined paths, pink weigela and deep blush azaleas swaying in the breeze. “This is just magnificent. Isn’t it, darling?”
“Heaven,” replied Traci absently, snapping photographs with her cell phone. “Where’s the chapel?”
Catherine’s hand closed about her daughter’s arm, tightly. Her smile was frozen. “No chapel, sweetie. This is a
private home
, remember?”
Traci stopped taking pictures. “Oh. Right.”
Catherine smiled apologetically. “This has been such a nightmare. We must have seen two dozen places in the past week, and the stress ... well, you just can’t imagine.”
Bridget said quickly, “You’ve had a long drive. You’ll want to freshen up. Let me show you inside.”
Paul held his smile until the two blondes had followed Bridget inside, and then he came forward to kiss Cici, then Lindsay. “If this works out,” he said, “you are going to owe me so big.”
“Or maybe,” Cici replied dryly, casting an uneasy eye toward the house, “you’ll owe us.”
Catherine was effusive about the staircase, the chandelier, the stained glass over the landing, the bay window in the living room. Traci whipped out her cell phone for pictures of the garden, the stone patio with the view of the mountains, the bubbling fountain, and the statue of the girl with the flower basket. She wanted to know what color the roses were and when they bloomed. Other than that, she didn’t speak.
Bridget served minted asparagus soup with a smoked bacon and rosemary-infused olive oil garnish, and glowed beneath Catherine’s praise. “Darling, you can’t mean you have no formal training! This is indescribable. I’m telling you the truth, if you were to open a restaurant in Washington, you couldn’t keep the crowds away. Paul, am I right?”
The four-cheese soufflé with a roasted pepper puree was as light as air, and elicited nothing but superlatives from their guests, and the mini scones stuffed with cherries and cream cheese were a sensation. In a very European move that caused both Cici’s and Lindsay’s eyebrows to shoot skyward, Bridget served the wild dandelion salad with raspberry vinaigrette after the main course, accompanied by miniature cheese biscuits and an exotic touch of pinot noir jam.
“It’s absolutely transcendental,” Catherine rhapsodized. “The difference fresh ingredients make—why, it’s just miraculous, isn’t it, Traci? I assume everything is organic?”
“Not officially,” Bridget tried to explain. “Although we don’t use pesticides or chemicals, you have to meet certain standards...”
Traci gazed out toward the meadow. “Do the sheep come with?”
Lindsay looked confused. “I don’t know where else they would go.”
“Now, darling.” Catherine placed her hand warmly over Bridget’s. The giant diamond on her finger prismed a brief spark of sunlight across the table. “This is what I’m thinking. Simple canapes, quiches, these wonderful little biscuits with your homegrown jams, fruit medley, fresh vegetables ... everything organic and fresh from your very own garden ... Why it’s
exactly
the kind of menu we were looking for!”
Bridget said uncertainly, “Well, we can’t really call it organic. And there’s not an awful lot in the garden in June ...”
“You could do that for fifty, couldn’t you?” Catherine persisted hopefully. “With some of these lovely sauces?” She gasped with sudden delight and clapped her hands together. “Traci, I have it! The theme will be everything Virginian! We’ll serve local wines and all the food will be homegrown right here on this beautiful farm! Locally grown is so trendy right now and incredibly politically correct.” She turned quickly to Bridget. “You can get locally milled flour, can’t you? And milk from your own cows?”
“We don’t actually have cows,” Bridget said.
Cici added, “And we really don’t grow that much of our own food.”
Catherine whirled on Paul, blond hair rippling. “Darling, what is the state flower of Virginia? Does anyone know?”
“Virginia creeper?” suggested Paul with a perfectly straight face, and Lindsay kicked him under the table.
“I know that,” Bridget said helpfully. “It was in that movie,
The American President
, remember? Dogwood, I think. Yes, that’s got to be it. Dogwood.”
“Dogwood is a tree,” Paul pointed out.
Bridget grinned. “That’s exactly what they said in the movie!”
“God, Mother,” Traci groaned, her thumbs working the keyboard of her phone. “I am
not
walking down the aisle with an armful of tree branches.”
Catherine looked disappointed. “Well, that’s too bad, isn’t it? Dogwood. Is there a runner-up state flower?”
Cici said carefully, “Most people have the wedding theme in mind long before they start planning the wedding. I mean, isn’t three weeks out a little late to be starting from scratch?”
“Darling,” confided Catherine dramatically, “I can’t
tell
you how many themes we’ve been through! Every time we get a new wedding planner we get a new theme! Everything from Cinderella’s Ball to Winter Wonderland—in the middle of June, mind you! It’s positively
outrageous.”
“Every time?” Cici kept her tone neutral, but she couldn’t prevent a single, meaningful gaze in Paul’s direction. “How many wedding planners have there been?”
Catherine gave a limp-wristed wave. “Too many. But the last one was really the pits. I mean, really, when he booked us into a
swamp...”
“I’m sure it wasn’t a swamp when he booked it,” Paul offered consolingly, and refilled her glass. “And you are getting your money back.”
Bridget turned to Traci. “What kind of theme did you have in mind, dear?” she asked pleasantly.
The young woman looked up from her phone with an expression that suggested she had only then realized that an actual person was sitting on her right. “Are you a wedding planner?” she asked.
“Well, no, but...”
Traci turned back to her telephone.
“When will you start bottling wine?” Catherine asked suddenly. “Maybe we can do a vineyard theme! That first woman had that whole Tuscan thing going, do you remember, Traci? With the crumbling walls and the grapevine arbor and the girls all in purple? Can you do crumbling walls?” She turned to Cici, growing more excited as she spoke. “And if we could serve the actual wine from your vineyard...”
Paul laughed, holding up a staying hand. “I think you might be getting a little carried away, Catherine. You can’t make wine on demand, particularly when the grapes aren’t even on the vine yet.”
“We don’t have any crumbling walls,” Lindsay added, looking offended.
BOOK: Love Letters from Ladybug Farm
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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