Tapping on Hazel Marie’s door and hearing her response, I breezed in, determined to be bright and cheerful. “How’re you feeling, Hazel Marie? You have a good nap? How’re you liking married life?”
“Well, so far,” she said, covering a yawn, “it’s pretty much like single life. Where is he, anyway?” Hazel Marie had gotten out of the pinned-up skirt of her wedding outfit and put on another of her sweat suits, or whatever they’re called. They were the only thing she could comfortably wear because they had elastic in the waist, but elastic can stretch only so far and sooner or later other arrangements would have to be made. It was a marvel to me that she had so many workout outfits, because Hazel Marie was not at all athletically inclined. But they had certainly come in handy as her waist continued to expand, seemingly on a daily basis.
“He and Sam and Lloyd are over at Sam’s house, packing Mr. Pickens’s suitcase to move over here. But goodness, they’ve had plenty of time to get back, so I don’t know what they’re doing. Probably sitting over there talking to give you some quiet time.”
I sat down in an easy chair by the window and waited to see what her mood was going to be. Expectant mothers are at the mercy of their hormones, don’t you know. She should’ve been filled with happiness, for she’d wanted to marry Mr. Pickens almost from the first day she’d met him, and that had been some while ago. But now that she had him, she didn’t seem to be taking a whole lot of pleasure in it. Mr. Pickens had been a hard man to pin down, and with good reason. As I’ve said, he was gun-shy when it came to taking a fourth wife, which in my opinion spoke well of him because it indicated that he was able to learn from his mistakes. The reason he’d given for resisting marriage—and this in spite of so obviously adoring Hazel Marie—was Lloyd’s sizeable inheritance from Wesley Lloyd Springer. Hazel Marie greatly benefited from it and would continue to do so until Lloyd reached maturity, and even then I couldn’t imagine that the boy would allow his mother to live in penury.
Mr. Pickens, to his credit, did not want, in the first place, to live off another man’s wealth, and in the second place, he would not consider being supported by a stepson. That commendable mind-set would certainly create problems, because Hazel Marie had become accustomed to benefiting from the Springer estate and, let’s face it, a private investigator’s income would hardly equal the income from the boy’s inheritance.
But it was their problem and I determined to leave it to them to figure out. At the moment, I had more pressing matters to deal with.
“Hazel Marie,” I said, watching as she scooted up in bed and propped herself against the headboard. “We need to think of some way to announce your wedding. In fact, the longer we put it off, the worse it will be, so we need to come up with a plan. Sam has suggested that we have an announcement party, sort of a belated wedding reception, which a lot of people do, especially when they have small family-only weddings, and it’s often done weeks after the honeymoon.”
As the horror on Hazel Marie’s face registered with me, I stopped and held up my hand. “But I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
,” she said. “Oh, Miss Julia, I couldn’t face a big party with everybody looking at me and knowing we had to get married. It would be awful.”
“Oh, I agree. I wouldn’t put you through that for anything. But here’s what I’ve come up with, because one way or another, we’ve got to let people know that you are now Mrs. J. D. Pickens. I mean other than just seeing him come and go, then gradually realizing that he’s moved in for good. And, of course, seeing your condition.”
She began to cloud up then, so she reached for the Kleenex box on the bedside table to have it near to hand.
“Now wait, Hazel Marie. I think I’ve come up with a solution. See what you think about it. Why don’t I have a luncheon and invite eight or ten of our closest friends and just announce it there? I mean,” I quickly added as she began shaking her head, “without your being there. Just think about it for a minute. Every one of those women will go home and tell at least a dozen others and before nightfall everybody in town will know that you two are married. The word will get around without us having a big party and putting you right out in front on display.”
“I don’t know,” she said, wiping her eyes on her sleeve, in spite of having a handful of Kleenex. “They’ll still know that we, well, kind of jumped the gun. I mean, I can’t hide anymore, so they’re all going to know and they’ll despise me for it.”
“No, they won’t. They might guess but they won’t
because I’ve thought of that, too. What I’ll do is tell them that you and Mr. Pickens got married in San Francisco when you were there back in the summer, but given the weird goings-on in California, I wasn’t sure that this state has reciprocity and I insisted that you do it again. That would take care of things if anybody gets wind of the ceremony this morning.” I waited a few minutes for her response, but didn’t get one. “What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t have to be there?”
“No, it’d be better if you’re not. See, I can make it like it’s a big joke on us. Maybe tell them that we’d thought of having a—oh, I just thought of something! I’ll say you’d planned to have a renewal of vows and a big reception, maybe at Christmas; but you two got ahead of us and turned up expecting twins, so we had to renew your vows at a magistrate’s office. Just to be on the safe side, see? In case there was any question as to the efficacy of a California wedding. How does that sound?”
Hazel Marie bit her lip, considering what I’d said. “It sounds pretty complicated. I’m not sure it’d work.”
“Doesn’t matter if it would or not.” I waved my hand at the thought. “All we need to do is give them a reasonable explanation, one they can accept without thinking too hard about it, and it’ll work. Everybody thinks the world of you, Hazel Marie, and those who know you or even know of you will give you the benefit of the doubt—if they’re given a good enough reason. And I intend to give them reason enough to believe whatever I tell them.”
“When would you do it?”
“As soon as possible. This week, because we don’t have a minute to lose. You need to be able to get out of this house and go about your business with your head held high. And as a married woman who everybody
is married, you can do that. I’ll start calling this afternoon. If you agree.”
She leaned her head against her knees, then finally looked up at me. “I don’t know what else to do. But Miss Julia, I am so sorry to put this on you. It’ll be you who’ll have to sit there and tell your friends one big story after another, and all because of me. I just hate that I’ve done this to you.”
“Why, Hazel Marie, I don’t mind a bit. I am so happy to have you married and those babies you’re carrying taken care of that stretching the truth a little is a small price to pay.” I sat for a minute, running over in my mind whom to invite and just exactly how I was going to make the announcement—when the entrée was served or perhaps over dessert?
“There is one other thing, Hazel Marie,” I said, bringing up a more worrisome matter. “You have got to tell Lloyd about the babies. He may already suspect that something’s going on just from looking at you, and remember, he can count as well as the next person. I’ll leave it up to you what you tell him, but he might hear that I’ve told about a San Francisco wedding, so you might want to mention that.”
“Oh, I hate to tell him such a story, but I was planning to tell him about the babies this afternoon, anyway. That was one reason I took a nap, putting it off as long as I could, I guess. J.D. said he’d do it for me, but I think I ought to.”
“I do, too. You and that boy have been so close for so long. He deserves to hear it from you. I’ll send him right in to you as soon as they get back.”
“Ask J.D. to come in, too, if you will. I think,” Hazel Marie said, “maybe it’d be better if we both tell him.”
“I think so, too, Hazel Marie,” I said, agreeing with anything she said just to get the matter taken care of. “It’ll be your first little family conference and a token of things to come. That boy is so thrilled right now at having a real family that he won’t question a thing you say.”
When the men got back from Sam’s house, Mr. Pickens went straight into Hazel Marie’s room with the one suitcase he’d brought from Charlotte, and I sent Lloyd in behind him. I hurriedly and quietly told Sam and Lillian what was taking place, and Sam said he’d recuse himself and go help Latisha denude the rosebushes. Sam frequently lapsed into legal terminology, which got him out of a lot of tight spots because nobody understood what he was saying.
I took myself upstairs, trying to get my mind off what Lloyd’s reaction would be as he was told that his brand-new nuclear family was about to explode into five members. I’d spoken to Lillian about the luncheon and we’d decided that Thursday would be a good day to have it.
“Let’s do chicken à la king,” I had said, “over those little puff pastry shells. And maybe a fruit salad.”
“You gonna need something green,” Lillian had told me. “I might can find some asparagus.”
“Oh, just open a couple of cans of English peas. Nobody’s going to notice what they eat. Not after they hear what I have to say.”
I spent the next hour or so telephoning the people on my invitation list. Because the luncheon was such a spur-of-the-moment affair, several already had plans of one kind or another, but I told them that I had a momentous announcement to make and they should drop everything and come. LuAnne was sure that I was going to announce Francie Pitts’s return, so she assured me she wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“I can’t wait to hear what everybody says,” she said with an anticipatory giggle. “They’re going to rake her over the coals.”
I didn’t correct her, simply saying that we’d certainly discuss Francie. Actually, Francie’s return was a godsend for me because, with luck, it would divert attention from Hazel Marie’s hasty nuptials.
At the dinner table that evening, Hazel Marie made a gallant effort not only to eat a decent meal, but also to appear content in her new status as a married woman. Mr. Pickens, sitting next to her, kept cutting his eyes in her direction and reaching over to touch her. He even held her hand under the table as we waited for Lillian to serve dessert. Hazel Marie, however, seemed to give him little encouragement, refusing to meet his eyes and concentrating instead on her food. At least, though, she didn’t shrug him off or break down in tears. So that was a good sign.
Lloyd, on the other hand, seemed to be in a daze. He hardly said a word, just sat there playing with his food and gazing off into the distance with a look of starry-eyed wonder on his face. I had no doubt that he was thrilled with the marriage, but how he was handling the news of his incoming siblings was another matter. I think the news of their imminent arrival had left him stunned and unable to comprehend the ramifications—a perfectly normal state of affairs, if you ask me. I’d suffered through the same reaction.
Lillian came in proudly bearing a fresh coconut cake, which she sat in front of me along with a stack of dessert plates. How she’d had time to do all that baking I didn’t know, but she was doing her utmost to make this wedding day a festive one. And so was Latisha, who’d strewn rose petals all around the kitchen. I’d brushed several out of Sam’s hair and later found one in the basket of rolls.
Mr. Pickens took one look at the cake and said, “Lillian, if I wasn’t a married man, I’d come courtin’ you.”
Lillian laughed. “Look like you a day late an’ a dollar short, ’cause you done missed yo’ chance with me.”
Lillian’s pleasure in the day’s events served to release the tension at the table and to divert all of us from thoughts of what this long-awaited wedding should have been like.
Later, not long after supper, when Mr. Pickens went into Hazel Marie’s room and closed the door behind him, I had to scurry around, keeping myself busy in order to do some diverting of my own. Their wedding night! And right under my roof. Of course, their sleeping together was nothing new for them, but it was for me and I had to scramble to keep my mind off it.