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Authors: Earlene Fowler

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BOOK: Seven Sisters
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And then there was Nadine.

Standing behind the counter, she eyed me over her pointy pink eyeglasses. Her matching pink uniform was crisp and clean and had one of those handkerchief name tags that no one ever sees waitresses wear anymore except on television. Or at Liddie’s.

“They’re in your usual booth,” she said, nodding toward the back. “You ask Emory how long he’s gonna put up with that girl a-teasin’ him, like a kitten with a broken-legged grasshopper.”

“No, thanks,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll leave that fine and nosy question to you.” Everyone, especially Nadine, was dying to find out when Emory and Elvia would tie the knot. Little did she know that another wedding was on the horizon before theirs. I relished having information before her.

“I’ll fine and nosy you,” she called after me. “What will you be wanting today, Miss Priss? They’ve already ordered.”

“The chili any good today?”

“It won’t give you ptomaine poisoning, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Extra cheese and onions, Miss Nadine. I surely thank you.” I turned and blew her a kiss.

She grumbled under her breath, then snapped at the tourists. “For cryin’ out loud, people, you’ve got two choices—take it or leave it.” Then she yelled my order to the cook.

In the booth, Emory and Elvia were sitting side by side, not speaking.

“Everything okay?” I asked, sliding across from them. Nadine had already brought my water and large Coke. I sipped at my water and looked from Emory’s face to Elvia’s —her face was neutral, his troubled.

“Fine,” Elvia said, but the tone of her voice told me otherwise. Her full red mouth turned downward.

Emory’s green eyes were miserable and a little resigned. I wondered just how long my blond, urbane, Arkansas Razorback-obsessed, and very rich cousin would continue to pursue my beautiful but reluctant friend. It had been eleven months of one step forward, five steps back, and though he was a patient and optimistic man, his fuel gauge seemed to be moving precariously close to empty. I knew the reason she was so wary of men, a devastating relationship with a sabbatical replacement professor when she was twenty-three—one who’d told her he was single, but she later found out was married with five kids and no intentions of leaving his family. There’d been a couple of relationships since then, but none that had any power over her emotions. Until Emory. He was different, she knew it, and that scared her to death. There were so many things I could explain to him about her, but didn’t. Her history . . . and her feelings for him were something she had to tell him.

Oh well, the road to love was a bumpy one—I certainly knew that. Thank goodness things had smoothed out for me and Gabe in the last few months. Maybe some gossip would take their minds off their personal problems. “You’ll never guess what I found out only minutes ago about Bliss.”

Elvia put a phony, interested expression on her face and straightened the collar of her forest green wool suit. “Tell us.”

Emory sipped his black coffee and remained silent.

“She’s an identical twin. Her sister is a member of our co-op, and I never knew they were related.”

“If she’s an identical twin . . . ” Emory started.

I held up my hand. “I’m telling you, Emory, they’re like a German shepherd and a poodle. I noticed the resemblance after JJ told me, but honestly, it was a surprise to me. JJ’s a quilt artist. You might have seen some of her work around town. She makes very untraditional crazy quilts that kind of tell stories.”

“You mean JJ Brown?” Elvia said. “I bought one of her quilts to hang in the children’s department at the store. It portrayed some of the original Grimms’ and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I liked it because she stayed true to the stories—they weren’t all Disneyed up. Cinderella’s stepsisters go blind in the end.”

“Never heard of her,” Emory said. “What does she think of Sam’s dilemma?”

Before I could answer, our food arrived. Elvia had a salad and vegetable soup, Emory, his favorite Western omelette with a side of avocado. Nadine beamed at Emory. “Anything else, sweetie?” she asked him.

“No, ma’am,” he said, giving her his best Karo syrup smile. “It all looks so delicious I swear I don’t know where to begin.”

“Saved that avocado for you ’cause it was the best of the bunch.”

“My dear Nadine, you are a queen among women, and I gratefully offer you my heart.”

I snorted at his words.

Nadine whacked me in the shoulder with the back of her hand. “Missy, you could take a lesson in manners from your cousin here. And it wouldn’t hurt you to remember that
tipping
is not a country in China.” With that, she turned and marched away, her thick-soled shoes squeaking across the old linoleum floor.

Elvia laughed out loud, causing Emory to beam. The tension between them eased a bit.

“So, find out anything else?” Emory asked, digging into his omelette.

“Not much. I’ll probably find out more tonight, though, since Gabe, Dove, Daddy, and I are invited to the Seven Sisters ranch for a get-acquainted dinner.”

“Don’t you know the family already?” Elvia asked.

“Dove and Cappy—that’s Bliss and JJ’s grandma—be—long to some of the same clubs. I’ve seen Bliss’s uncle around, but he’s in his late forties, so we never ran in the same crowd. Bliss, JJ, and their cousin, Arcadia, are in their twenties, so they’re quite a bit younger than me. Except for Dove and Cappy, our families have never had any reason to connect.”

“Until now,” Emory said.

“Until now,” I agreed.

“That name Arcadia sounds familiar,” Elvia said.

“She and her new husband, Giles Norton, are frequently pictured in the
Tribune’s
society section,” Emory supplied. “Cappy’s younger sister, Willow, had a daughter named Phoebe who died in a plane accident with her husband about twenty years ago. They had one child, a daughter named Arcadia, who was nine at the time. She went to live with her grandmother Willow. A few years back, Arcadia married Giles Norton of the ultra-snobby Napa Valley Nortons. Demands to be called a ‘vintner’ rather than wine-maker, which is the more favored term among wine people in this easygoing little county. His father is William Giles Norton of Napa Valley fame. The family has owned wineries in Napa Valley for a hundred years. Giles is currently running the Norton Winery over the grade in Paso Robles. The winery’s not very old, but everything in it is the best. Word on the grapevine, so to speak, is that he’s itching to become a large presence down here in San Celina County, and he doesn’t care how he does it.”

I looked at my cousin, amazed. He’d only been living here eleven months and he already knew more about most of the inhabitants than I did. “Well, I’ll be meeting the whole clan tonight. I’ll give you both the full report tomorrow.”

Elvia left first since she had a sales rep due at the store. Emory and I stayed longer, sharing a cherry cobbler à la mode.

“So, what’s going on with you two?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders under his tailored Hugo Boss sports jacket. “We’re at an impasse. I want more commitment. She’s happy with things the way they are.”

I didn’t answer because I didn’t know what to say. I loved both of these people so much, and though a part of me was thrilled they were together, I also knew it could spell disaster. Already things had become a little awkward between me and Elvia since we couldn’t dissect this relationship-in-progress like we had with other men she’d dated. I didn’t want her hurt, but I also didn’t want my cousin, who was more like a brother to me, to be hurt either. I sighed and patted his hand.

“Enough about me,” he said, setting his spoon down. “How’s this unexpected pregnancy affecting you and the chief?”

It was my turn to shrug. “He’s upset, of course. Thinks they’re too young and too irresponsible. He’ll cool down. They both have very concerned families, so I’m guessing too much help will be more their problem than not enough.”

He looked at me steadily. “No, I mean how is this affecting you and Gabe personally?”

I knew what he was talking about and wanted to ignore it. But Emory, who’d been my bosom buddy since our preteen summer together at the ranch the year his mom died, knew better than anyone the mixed feelings I had every time someone I knew became pregnant.

“More to the point, are you okay?” he asked.

Another sigh escaped my chest. “Emory, you know how it is. We had the tests, and they say there’s nothing wrong with either of us. Obviously it isn’t him. He has a son. The next step is all that fertility stuff, and I’m not sure I want to do any of that.”

“Why?”

I carefully folded and unfolded my paper napkin, not looking at him. “All that poking and prodding. The drugs. You know how I hate going to doctors. Maybe I don’t want it bad enough to go through all that. If it happens, then great, but if it doesn’t . . . ” I ran my hand over the napkin, smoothing it. “Maybe that’s just how things are supposed to be.”

“You’d make a great mom.”

I continued to play with my napkin, reluctant to confess, even to this man who had been my closest confidante since childhood, the sadness inside of me at the thought of having a child. How my mother’s death so early in my life left me terrified about repeating that with my own child, how a part of me was secretly glad the decision had been taken out of my hands.

“Do you and Gabe ever talk about it?”

“Some. He’s mostly concerned that I’m happy, and right now I am happier than I’ve ever been, so I’m just going to deal with what’s on my plate right this moment and leave the rest to God.”

“Wish I could be that wise,” he said, crumpling his own napkin and tossing it into our empty dessert bowl. “I just want to grab Elvia by the hair and haul her down to the justice of the peace.”

The image made me laugh out loud. “You’d better hope these tables aren’t bugged, ’cause if my feminist friend ever heard you say that, you’d be seeing her taillights fifty miles down the highway before you could blink those gorgeous green Southern eyes of yours.”

THAT EVENING I performed a scenario familiar to every woman on earth—standing in front of the closet an hour before the big event, moaning I had nothing to wear.

“You should go shopping more,” Gabe said practically, tying a patterned silk tie in front of our long mirror. He always had the appropriate clothes for everything. Tonight it was gray wool slacks, a blue-gray tweedy jacket, and a dark gray shirt.

“I hate to shop,” I said, but knowing he was right.

With Elvia’s voice in my head giving me directions, I finally decided on a pair of black wool Anne Klein pants she’d made me buy, a lapis-colored silk shirt, my good Lucchese boots, and a pair of silver, turquoise, and lapis earrings by Ray Tracey, a Navajo jeweller from New Mexico whose clean lines and unusual combinations of stones appealed to me. They were a gift from Emory, who’d once interviewed the artist for an article he did for
Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts
magazine.

On the drive to Amelia Valley, Gabe casually mentioned that he had talked to Lydia earlier that afternoon.

“Oh?” I murmured.

“She’s upset about Sam, of course, but I calmed her down. She doesn’t know Bliss, thought she was some young girl trying to trap him. I set her straight.” He glanced over at me.

“Oh,” I repeated noncommittally. There was no way I was being pulled into commenting on anything to do with his ex-wife.

“She’s coming up this weekend. She’s staying at the San Celina Inn.”

“An article in the
Tribune
said they’ve just redecorated. I’m sure she’ll like it.”

He gave a low laugh and said, “If she doesn’t, they’ll hear about it.”

At least I had a few more days before I met this assertive and gorgeous woman. I’m not a particularly jealous person, but I had to admit it would have made me a lot happier if she didn’t look quite so much like a
Vogue
model or wasn’t so incredibly successful, not to mention having a child in common with my husband. I picked at a piece of white lint on my knee. In some ways I envied Sam and Bliss. It was so much easier when you’re young and have minimal history to cloud a relationship.

“So,” I said, changing the subject, “tell me everything you know about wine so I don’t appear unsophisticated around these people.” I had a problem. Not only did I not particularly like wine, I didn’t like grapes—grape anything—the fruit itself, grape juice, grape jelly, not even that horrible grape soda pop Gabe and Sam loved so much. “There’s red and white, that much I know. Now, quick, tell me the rest so I can fake it.”

Gabe laughed and maneuvered his sky blue ’68 Corvette down the interstate off ramp and headed down a long, twisting country highway. “That’s one of the things I love about you,
querida.
Your complete confidence in your ability to pull one over on people even though your confidence is significantly greater than your ability.”

I whacked his biceps with the back of my hand. “Do what the lady says or you’ll be sleeping in the doghouse with Scout.”

“He sleeps in the kitchen,” Gabe said amicably. “At least I won’t have far to go to the coffeepot in the morning.”

“Wine, Friday. Tell me about wine. I don’t want to insult Sam’s in-laws-to-be. Tell me what I should do.”

“Be yourself, sweetheart, with a few alterations. Drink what they put in front of you and say it’s marvelous. Smile a lot. Try not to make your cauliflower face when you drink it.”

My cauliflower face was what he called my expression when I taste something I can’t stand. Faking it has never been one of my strong points.

“I can do that,” I said.

The sky had faded to a lavender dusk when we came to Seven Sisters Road. Two-hundred-year-old oaks, leafy ash, and a few scattered maple trees canopied the narrow, twisting road and formed long, jagged evening shadows. Though it was still only the latter part of September, there had been a slight frost a week ago, and some of the maples had turned reddish-yellow, adding an unexpected color to the dusty green of the oaks. After five miles of winding road, we came to the entrance of the ranch. A white wrought-iron arch was topped by the Seven Sisters brand—two back-to-back interlocked S’s. Underneath the arch, swinging from two chains, was a simple wooden sign: SEVEN SISTERS RANCH—EST. 1922. Underneath that sign dangled a slightly larger one carved with the outline of seven peaks: SEVEN SISTERS WINERY—EST. 1985. We drove through the open gates, passing still-green pastures with a few horses contentedly browsing the ground. Farther down the road, the pastures turned into rows of grapevines. Set among the rows were two gray-and-white farmhouses with window boxes filled with bright red flowers, too far away for me to name. One of the houses had tiny, blinking white Christmas lights scattered throughout the small bushes in front of the wraparound porch and a Volkswagen van painted with a colorful mural parked in front.

BOOK: Seven Sisters
3.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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