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Sisters Candace & Violet sidestep the antics of their mother and aunt at their uncle's funeral while trying to solve the mystery of his death.

The Dance

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"Sad people are not fun," Violet said, and I had to admit it was true.

      “Mamma has always had a love for other people’s possessions,” my sister Violet said, picking up Mamma’s copy of Cosmo and seating herself at the settee in Mamma’s breakfast nook, apparently oblivious to the irony in her remark.  

      “Why do you say that?” I asked, looking at the mess of papers on the breakfast bar.

      “Well, look at Uncle  Albert,” she said. “Didn’t she take him?”

      “I don’t think that’s exactly fair,”  I said. “Uncle Albert and Aunt Clem were already divorced.”

      “Well, whatever,” Violet said.  “I still think Mamma’s love for other people’s things has something to do with what happened.”

      I wasn’t as quick to jump to conclusions as my sister, which is why I had dragged her over to our mother’s house when we really should have been helping Aunt Clem prepare for the viewing.

      “You know, that’s not all Mamma took.”  She was thumbing through the magazine, but I could tell she wanted to pique my interest.  I ignored her.

      “Ah, come on, Candace,”  she pouted. “Don’t ya wanna know what else Mamma absconded with?”

      “Maybe later,”  I replied absently.  “Right now, I’m interested in why she left so suddenly.  Without Uncle Albert.”

      “Because she wanted to be alone,”  Violet said. “Kind of how I feel about you when you try to turn the channel away from Magnum P.I.”

      “Now you’re just being silly,” I said.  “I never try to turn the channel away from Magnum.”  

      Violet played with a piece of her hair.   “Come on, Candace,” she said. “I thought we were going to get mani/pedis before the viewing.”

      “Are you serious?”  I asked, even though I knew she was perfectly serious.  “Aren’t you the least bit curious about Mamma’s absence and Uncle Albert’s heart attack?”

      “Of course,” Violet replied breezily.  “But do I have to be curious today?”

      “No, you don’t,” I told her.  “You can sit there and whine.”  I gave her a big smile.

      Violet tossed her head.  “Well, can you hurry up? This place gives me the creeps,” she said and gave a dainty shiver to prove her point.

      I imagined the scene two days ago when poor Rosa had walked in to do her regular dusting and vacuuming, finding instead our dead uncle.  I, too, shivered.

      Violet suddenly said,  “Oh, now that’s an awful dress.  I can’t believe what Hollywood pushes as fashion.”  She held up the magazine so I could see the photo. “Look at this dress Kendall Jenner is wearing.”

      I glanced at it but said nothing, my attention focused on the papers strewn on the counter.  I had started picking them up, one by one, to look over. There had to be something here that would give me a clue.

      “Seriously, Candace, can we go soon?”  Violet said. “I still need to do hair and makeup, and we have to be at the funeral home in, like, three hours.”

      “Mamma and Uncle Albert were always a bit strange, don’t you think, Vi?”  I mused. “I mean, who doesn’t go with his wife on vacation?”

      Violet appeared to consider that.  “Someone who accepts that his wife wants to be alone?”  she suggested. “And why is it suddenly so important to understand their relationship?  It’s not as if we ever understood it before.”

      That was true.

      “Why do you suppose Mamma’s not here right now?” Violet continued.  “It’s not because she couldn’t get a flight out today. Or yesterday, or the day before that.”

      It was a good point.   It was almost as if Mamma was running away from something.  Her cryptic text messages the night before she left about ‘going away’, ‘without Uncle Albert’, and ‘I’ll be in touch’ hadn’t seemed all that strange at the time.  After all, it was Mamma who had sent them.  But now Uncle Albert was dead.  And Mamma had avoided our calls for three days.  We didn’t even know if she was coming home for the funeral.  

      “I wonder why Mamma hasn’t called us,”  I said.

      “Maybe there’s no cell service in Puerto Rico,”  Violet suggested, and then looked at me questioningly.  “Wait, there has to be, doesn’t there? Isn’t Puerto Rico an adjunct of the U.S.,  or something?”

      I laughed at my sister.  “If by adjunct, you mean territory, then yes,”  I told her. “But I’m not sure that has anything to do with it.  Ever heard of cell towers?”

      Violet closed the magazine and slapped it on the settee.  “Of course I have,” she said. “And I’ve also heard of land lines.”  She nodded sanctimoniously at my expression. “So I guess you have your answer. Mamma doesn’t want to talk to us.”  She rose, grabbing her purse.  “I’m done here, Candace, even if you’re not.  You can leave with me, or you can stay and snoop around Mamma’s house ‘til the cows come home.  I really don’t care.”

      I hid my grin.  My sister could certainly get in a snit when she wanted to.  But since it was my truck sitting in the driveway, I wasn’t too nervous.  “Be my guest,” I replied. “But you’ll have to call an Uber.” Violet looked even more annoyed. “Or, you could help me look for clues.”

      After a moment, she said, “Okay, fine.  But ten minutes, Candace. And then we’re going.”  She joined me at the breakfast bar. “What kind of clues?”

      “Anything out of the ordinary,” I told her.  

      “Well,” she said, “this mess is out of the ordinary.  Mamma would never throw papers all over like this.”

      “Exactly,”  I said. “Start reading through these…”

      I stopped as Violet dangled a paper under my nose.

      “What’s that?” I asked her.

      “A clue, of course,” she said.

      Examining the document, I saw that it was an invoice from a  company called Doors Unlimited.  Gee, I wonder what they do? I thought.  My eyes widened as they took in the handwritten note at the bottom:  call Vincent re: situation with Albert.

      I looked up at my sister who was nodding at me with her ‘I win’ posture.   “What now, detective?” she said.

      “Who’s Vincent?”  I asked, “and what situation with Uncle Albert?”

      “I don’t know.  But that’s Mamma’s handwriting,” Violet said.

      “It is, indeed,”  I said, speculating.  

      “What do you think it means?”  Violet asked. I gave her a look because I was sure her mind was going in the same direction as mine.

      “Let’s examine the facts, shall we?” Violet rolled her eyes as I made a play of pacing across the kitchen.  “Fact one: Mamma leaves town without Uncle Albert. Fact two: she writes a strange note about another man...”  I paused dramatically. “Fact three: Uncle Albert has a heart attack.”

      Violet looked at me.  “So?”

      “So?!”  I repeated.  “What caused his heart attack, Vi?”  

      “French fries and rib eye steaks!”  she replied emphatically. “He wasn’t a healthy man, Candace.  End of story.”

      I turned and faced my sister seriously.  “What if Uncle Albert saw this note?” I said, and waited.

      Violet studied the uncharacteristic mess on the breakfast bar, chewing her lip.  “Do we know where he was found?” she asked finally.

      We both looked down at the floor, and with tacit agreement, stepped away.

      “We don’t know for sure.” I tried belatedly to reassure her.  After all, we didn’t.

      Violet wasn’t waiting to hear more.  She was walking toward the door with her purse.  “We need to go, Candace,” she said. “Now.”

      “Okay, okay,” I conceded.  “But I’m taking this with me.”  I reached for my own purse and then jumped as we heard the crunch of tires on gravel.  Violet looked out to see who it was.

      “Great,”  she said. “It’s Aunt Clem.”  She looked at me. “What do we do?”

      “Act normal,”  I instructed. “We just came over to check on things.”

      Violet nodded as she opened the door.

      “Darlings!” Aunt Clementine’s tone belied the endearment.  I could tell she was in a mood. “I’ve been calling and calling.  Why aren’t you answering your phone?”

      “Sorry, Aunt Clem,”  I said, thankful that she could not read my mind.  “I didn’t realize you were trying to reach us.”

      “You would have if your phone was turned on,”  she said to me with arched eyebrows. “This is a difficult enough day without you two hiding out at your mother’s house.  What are you doing here anyway? I would have thought this was the last place you’d want to be.”

      “Um…” Violet began, “We just came over to…”  

      “...look for a suit for Uncle Albert,”  I finished, not trusting my sister but forgetting my earlier plan.  

      Aunt Clem looked askance at that but chose to ignore it.

      “Any word from your mother?”  she asked.

      I shook my head, while my dippy sister decided to be funny.   “Apparently, all flights from Puerto Rico are grounded due to an over-abundance of blue skies and sunshine,” she said, earning a sour look from our aunt.

      “Hmph,” Clem snorted without amusement. “I already gave the funeral home your uncle’s blue suit, so whatever you two were doing here, you’re done.”   She looked at me. “And turn your phone back on.”

      I was still holding the invoice and glanced at it again before folding it.  Who was Vincent?  And what was the situation Mamma needed to talk to him about?  I wish I had answers but was uncomfortably aware that I probably wouldn’t like it if I did.

      “What’s that?”  Aunt Clem was asking, and I shook my head, tucking the paper into my purse.

      “Nothing, Aunt Clem,”  I said, glad she hadn’t seen Mamma’s note.

      “Then let’s go,” she preceded us out the door, and for some reason I was perturbed.  I asked, “Aunt Clem, do you know someone named Vincent?”

      Violet and I arrived at the funeral home for the viewing of late Uncle Albert’s body at 3:00, as directed by our aunt. We had changed into dark dresses, exuding the aura of those who have been recently shattered by personal loss. As I pulled my Tacoma into the parking lot, I could see Aunt Clem’s Town Car already parked near the front door.

      “I hope this doesn’t take too long,” Violet said as I pulled around to the back of the lot, putting the truck into reverse when I found a spot that looked good.  “I’m hoping Billy Ray wants to take me to dinner.” I ignored my sister, concentrating on the rear view mirror instead. “And why do you always have to back in? It’s annoying.”

      “It’s practical,”  I told her. “A big truck is hard to back out in a tight parking lot. This way, I can just pull forward.”

      “A Tacoma is not a big truck,”  she said. “And thanks for parking all the way back here.  I’m wearing my killer shoes.”

      I glanced at the black heels on her feet without sympathy.   “Try flip flops next time.”

      As we approached our aunt’s newly washed and waxed car parked in a handicapped spot, Violet said plaintively, “That’s where we should be.  I’m practically handicapped.”

      A burst of laughter escaped me.  “Practically?”   Violet seemed affronted at that.

      Just inside the front door, we were greeted by a receptionist who must have taken very seriously her orientation for greeting mourners.  “I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said after we introduced ourselves. “The viewing for Mr. Fontaine will take place in our largest lounge.  If you’ll follow me.” Her perfectly-coiffed form led us down the carpeted hallway to a room on the left.

      I took in the scene as we entered the funeral home’s ‘largest lounge’.  In the middle was what I would call a grandiose coffin, opened at one end and surrounded by at least 30 displays of flowers.  Placed at a respectable distance around the coffin were small round tables where people could stand with their food and drink and gossip about the dear departed.  Inside the coffin (I could only surmise) were the artificially-preserved remains of our uncle.

      Our aunt was interrogating an official-looking man.

      “Red punch?”  Aunt Clem exclaimed, aghast.   “This is not what I ordered. Who changed my order?” she demanded.

      “I don’t know, ma’am,” the man answered calmly, apparently used to the irrationalities that the bereaved periodically display.  “The caterers handle their own orders. We have no way of knowing whether or not it was changed.”

      “Well, it was,” Aunt Clem said.  “And someone should have called me.  This is not my order.”

      “Perhaps you could call them,” the man suggested.  “There’s still time.”

      Violet stepped in, unwisely as far as I could see.  “Aunt Clem,” she said, “it’s just punch. Can’t we leave it?”

      “It’s tacky,”  she insisted. To the man, she said, “Take it away.  See if there are any bottles of wine and ginger ale available.”

      “I’m sorry, ma’am,”  he said, “ We don’t have any food or drink sitting around.  As I said, perhaps the caterers can come back and...”

      “This is unacceptable,” Aunt Clem muttered, fishing her phone from her purse.  I figured we’d see wine and ginger ale within 15 minutes.

      “Girls, girls,”  Aunt Clem motioned toward the red punch.  “Get that out of here immediately. I don’t care where you put it;  just get rid of it.”

      I prepared to lift the punch bowl, catching the man’s eyes with my unspoken question.   He nodded, beckoning toward a door behind the food tables. “In here.”

      Violet supervised.  “Careful,” she said, as if without her words I would be sloshing the liquid haphazardly all over the place.   I gave her a look. As I cleared the doorway (carefully), I saw that I was entering a small prep room with a sink and refrigerator.   

      Rather than dump the offending liquid in the sink, I said to Violet, “Open the fridge and we’ll keep it in there in case we still need it.”  

      Violet laughed.  “That’s not gonna happen,”  she said, but she opened the door as requested.   While I tended to agree, I was loathe to dump perfectly good punch.   It can take a breather in the refrigerator until further notice, I thought.

      Aunt Clem seemed slightly less annoyed when we walked back out to the lounge.  “The caterers will be back in 20 minutes. Make sure there’s no delay letting them in,” she directed the official-looking man.  “The viewing may not start until everything is in place.”

      “It’s a good thing it’s not scheduled until 4:00, then,”  Violet whispered to me, and I wondered why she felt the need to poke the tiger, today of all days.

      Aunt Clem was not amused.  “It’s a good thing I’m here to make sure your uncle’s viewing has the prestige it deserves.  Now, who changed my order with the caterers?”  She looked at me expectantly.

      “I don’t know, Aunt Clem,”  I said. “Honest.”

      “Me neither,” Violet said.

      While our aunt didn’t seem wholly satisfied, she also apparently didn’t think it worth interrogating us further.

      “All right, then,” she said briskly, “let’s do something about this food.”  She began removing platters, gesturing for Violet and me to do the same and follow her into the small prep room.  We watched as she discarded some items and rearranged others until she was satisfied that she had turned everything into better-looking displays.  I couldn’t tell any difference, but if Aunt Clem was happy, then everyone else had a chance, so I said nothing. I was thankful that Violet decided to do the same.   

      When the caterers returned to rectify their mistake, Aunt Clem indicated the spot where the punch bowl had sat, watching while a young man and his female assistant arranged and rearranged under her direction until she was satisfied with that, too.     

      As the pair turned to leave, my aunt said, “Wait, young man.  Do you know who changed the order I placed just yesterday?”

      He shook his head, handing over a clipboard for Aunt Clem to inspect.  “Here’s the order, lady,” he said. “See for yourself.”

      I was amused, thinking that he must have worked with contrary customers quite a bit in his career.   I saw Aunt Clem’s eyes widen and then narrow as she read the order, and I wondered what she had seen.  She gave the clipboard back and said, “Thank you. That’s all.”

      The young man and his assistant turned to go.

      “What did it say, Aunt Clem?”  Violet asked. “Was it changed?”

      “Oh, yes,” my aunt said in measured tones.  “It was changed all right. By someone calling from San Juan.”

      “San Juan!”  I echoed. “As in, Puerto Rico?”  and Aunt Clem nodded grimly.

Violet and I looked at each other.   “Mamma!” we said in unison.

      “Of course it’s your mother!  Trying to ruin things even when she’s not here.  I should have thought about that and explicitly banned her from having anything to do with my viewing!”

      “Your viewing?”  Violet echoed without thinking, and Aunt Clem gave one of her signature looks.    My sister stared back at the tiger for a moment, and then said, deadpan, “Sorry, Aunt Clem.  Of course it’s your viewing. You have worked very hard to make it wonderful for Uncle Albert.”  I grinned reluctantly and even my aunt appeared on the verge of cracking a smile.

      Nevertheless, she made a show of remaining stoic.  “Let’s try to get through this afternoon with the maximum of decorum and the minimum of fuss.”  Then she walked out of the room.

      Violet grinned at me.  “Do you think that’s possible?”  I shrugged. “Well, in the interest of decorum,” she continued, “I think I’ll have a look at Uncle Albert.”    

      I chose to excuse myself from that activity, preferring to avoid cosmetically-refreshed dead people.

      Mourners stood around the tables, eating the goodies thoughtfully provided by my mother and drinking the wine thoughtfully provided by my aunt.   Every now and then, a few people would walk to the middle and pay their respects to the man resting in the coffin. What unnerved me were the groups of people who never moved away from the coffin, instead, hovering over a plasticized dead man as they discussed the weather, religion, and politics.   I think I’ll skip the viewing at my funeral, I thought.

      Violet suddenly appeared at my elbow.  “I wonder if Vincent is here,” she said.

      “What?”  I replied, my mind on the coffin and its admirers.

      “Vincent.”  She looked around the room.  “You know. Vincent!”

      “Oh,”  I said, dragging my thoughts from the mannequin in the coffin.  “Vincent.  Now you’re curious?”  

      “I was curious before,” Violet corrected me.  “But now, I’m also bored.” I smiled at that. “I’ve been thinking about that note Mamma wrote.”

      “Yes?” I prompted.

      “Well,” Violet said conspiratorially, “that word ‘situation’ does seem to evoke something...less than above board.”

      I rolled my eyes at her Jessica Fletcher impression.  “And?” I prompted again.

      “And..,” she continued, “what if, now just stick with me here….what if this Vincent guy had something on Mamma.”

     “Had something?”  I echoed.

      “Mmm hmmm,” she nodded.  “Had something. As in, blackmail.  Wouldn’t that be a situation?  Maybe even enough of a situation to make Mamma run away.”

      I shook my head at my sister’s ability to make the most absurd connections possible.  

      “Oh, please!”  I said. “Blackmail?  In the form of a bill mailed through the U.S. Postal Service?”

      “Pretty clever, huh?”  Violet was obviously proud of her deductive reasoning.  “And what if Uncle Albert knew what it was. That could have caused his heart attack.  If  he saw the note, of course.”

       “Honestly, Vi,”  I told her. “The leaps you take!   A situation doesn’t necessarily mean a criminal act.  No one would do blackmail using a statement of services rendered.”

      “Why not?  Who would suspect it?  It’s the perfect plan.”

      “It is not the perfect plan,”  I told her. “It’s a stupid plan.”

      Violet gave me a sideways look that I interpreted as ‘you’re probably right’.
      “Exactly what services were rendered, though?”  she persisted. “What was it called? Doors…”

      “Doors Unlimited,”  I supplied, taking the statement out of my purse.

      “Oh, good,” Violet said.  “You still have it. Now there’s no excuse not to call them.”

      “Why would we do that?”  I asked her.

      “To find out what they do.  And see if Vincent works there,” Violet said matter-of-factly.  “Tell me you’re not the least bit curious, Candace.”
      “Okay,” I said.  “I’m the least bit curious.  But maybe we should wait until tomorrow.  We
are at a viewing, you know.”

      “Now,” she said, decisively.  “This is the most boring day of my life, and I’m just sick that Billy Ray hasn’t texted to see if I want to get dinner later.   If I don’t get something out of tonight besides nightmares about Uncle Albert’s makeup job, I’ll go crazy.” She stopped, noticing my growing smile.  “I’m not kidding, Candace. Crazy!”

      So I nodded and said, “Okay.  Let’s go.” I looked around the room, spotting Aunt Clem with her back to us, and grabbed my sister’s hand.  “To the hallway,” I instructed.

      She followed me, breathless.  “Now let me do the talking,” I said.  

      Violet nodded, then whispered excitedly, “Put it on speaker.”   I nodded back and told her to shush. After a few moments, we heard a raspy male voice on the other end.

      “Doors Unlimited.  Whadya ya need?”

      “Not very professional,”  Violet whispered, and I gave her a look and another “shh!”

      “I’d like to speak with Vincent, please,” I said.

      There was a pause on the other end.  “Who?”

      “Vincent,”  I repeated.

      “Nobody named Vincent here,” the voice said.

      “Oh!” I replied, not prepared for that.  “Are you sure?”

      “Look, lady,” the voice said, “I know who works here, and they ain’t no Vincent.”

      “What does your business do?”  Violet asked.

      “Whadya think, lady?  We sell and re-FUR-bish doors.”  Violet and I looked at each other, giggling.  Of course they do!  “What else do ya want?  We’re just about to close.”

      “Nothing,”  I said. “Thank you.”  

      “Now what?”  Violet asked, and I shook my head, unsure. It seemed as if our big clue wasn’t much of a clue after all.  

      “Girls!”  We both jumped at the sound of Aunt Clem’s voice.  “What are you doing out here? I need you in there.”  I bit my lip, thinking about the mysterious Vincent as my sister and I followed our aunt back to the lounge.  Who was he? And what did Mamma’s note really mean?  

      I wandered toward the food tables and endured small talk with a couple who had apparently admired Uncle Albert for decades.  “Such a wonderful man,” the woman was saying, while her husband gnawed on a crustless cucumber sandwich wedge. My smile was perfunctory, and I wondered when my mother had stopped thinking of Uncle Albert as a wonderful man.  I found an excuse to move away, taking a glass of wine with me, and saw Violet striding toward me purposefully. I picked up a second glass of wine and joined her.

      “I’m bored again, Candace,” Violet said.  “Sad people are not fun.”

      I smiled, handing her the second glass of wine.  “No, they’re not, Vi,” I replied, and then I thought of something. “Earlier, at Mamma’s house, what did you mean?”

      “About what?” she asked.

      “That Mamma always did love other people’s things,”  

      “Well, she did, didn’t she?”  Violet said. “Why do you think she married Uncle Albert?”

      “But you asked if I wanted to know what else she had absconded with,” I reminded her.  Violet looked at me sheepishly. “Oh, that,” she said, waving a hand in the air dismissively.  ‘I didn’t mean anything. I was just trying to yank your chain.”

      “That’s dumb,”  I told her. “And I don’t believe you.”

      “If you mean Vincent, I didn’t even know about him until we found that invoice,” Violet said.  “But I wouldn’t bet that Mamma’s love for other people’s things didn’t extend to him.” She looked at me with a challenge in her eyes.  “Would you?”

      “I don’t know,”  I said. “But I’d like to hear it from Mamma.”

      Violet’s eyes had widened.  “You just may get your chance,” she said, moving away from me and walking toward the door.

      I turned as she walked past.  Mamma!  She was standing in the doorway, surveying the friends and acquaintances who had come to pay their respects to her husband.

      “Darlings,” our mother said in her velvet voice, giving us both cheek kisses.  “Oh, what an awful flight. I could certainly use a drink. Too bad all I ordered was that dreadful punch.  Your aunt must have had a fit.” Violet and I exchanged glances. Mamma didn’t know the half of it.

      “Ah, now I see Clem’s hand in things,”  Mamma said, as her eyes fell on the wine.   She moved toward it, smiling, shaking hands, and giving air kisses along the way.  We followed, bemused and a little star-struck. Our mother had always managed to make a spectacular entrance.

      Mamma poured herself a generous glass of wine and took an appreciative drink.  “Ah….,” she said blissfully. “That’s better.” Then, “What?” noticing our raised eyebrows.  “If I don’t allow your aunt to have a project, it drives her up the wall.” I smiled, sometimes understanding my mother’s relationship with her sister, but mostly not.   “And just how is dear Clementine?”  

      Dear Clementine had noticed her sister’s arrival and was already walking over to address that question herself.  Instinctively, Violet and I stepped back as our aunt leaned close to our mother. I was sure everyone could hear my audible exhale as they gave each other air kisses instead of fists to the face.

      “Gracie,” Aunt Clem said pleasantly.  “So glad you’re here.”

      “Oh!”  Mamma said with a pretty little sigh.  “I see we’re being friendly today.” She gave her sister a dazzling smile.  “It’s a lovely party, Clementine. Thank you for stepping in. My refreshments look close to what I ordered.”

      Aunt Clem smiled.  “You’re very welcome, my dear.  I had to do only a tiny bit of rearranging.”

Violet and I watched as our mother and aunt did the familiar dance they had perfected over several decades.  A little dig or two, some self-congratulatory words, a few long-suffering nuances, and then Aunt Clem excused herself to ‘talk to the Porters’.

      Mamma watched her go with an expression that reminded me of a mountain lion tracking its prey.  Taking a sip of her wine, she said, “Poor Albert. It wasn’t either of you who found him, was it?”

      Violet shook her head.  “No, Mamma. It was the maid.”   

      I  shuddered again at what a shock that must have been for Rosa.    Then my thoughts turned to the paper in my purse. Perhaps the last three days of silence from our mother had caught up with me, because the next thing I knew, I was blurting,  “Mamma, why did you go to Puerto Rico without Uncle Albert? And who is Vincent?”

      Violet sucked in her breath.  

      Mamma seemed nonplussed.  “Why do you ask, darling?”  

      Opening my purse, I took out the statement and handed it to her.

      She studied it, smiled at me, and then said, “Been snoopin’, have you?”  

      Violet had the grace to look embarrassed, whereas I dove right in.   “I was looking for anything to tell me why my mother left town without her husband,” I said, “and why she didn’t come home when she found out he was dead.”

      Mamma’s smile remained but the light in her eyes changed.   Now she made me think of a chess player contemplating her next move.

      “We called the company, Mamma.  They don’t have a Vincent working there,” I told her.

      “Of course they don’t,”  Mamma said easily. “The bill has nothing to do with Vincent.”

      “No?”  Violet and I asked, looking at each other.

      “No.  Vincent is a good friend who arranged the trip to Puerto Rico for me.  He’s got family there and I was invited to visit.”

      “But who is he?”  Violet persisted.

      Mamma stared at the floor for a moment, and I wondered if she was about to lie to us.  “He’s someone that you’ll meet sometime. But not today,” she said. “I told him it would not be appropriate.”

Violet and I exchanged looks.  A boyfriend?  Really?

      “So,” I finally said.  “The situation has to do with how you were going to break it to Uncle Albert?”

      Mamma glanced down at the paper.  “It’s a shame you saw this, but I can’t help that you two have no boundaries.”

      And I couldn’t stop myself  from asking, “Do you think Uncle Albert saw this?”  I watched as a look that might have been compunction came over her face.

      “I do hope not,” she said quietly.  

      Aunt Clem swept in again, a look of triumph glistening her brow, and I prepared myself for round two.

      “So nice to talk with the Porters,”  she said to all of us, but mostly to Mamma.  “You remember them, don’t you, Gracie? They’re such dear, dear friends of the Wycliffes.  You know, up in Glenda Valley? It’s a real shame, though. They were telling me about Susan Wycliffe’s husband Vincent.”

      I nearly choked on my wine.  “What did you say?” I asked.

      “Vincent Wycliffe,”  Aunt Clem repeated. “Ran off with another woman.”  She looked at my mother closely. “Another woman, Gracie.  Can you imagine that?”

      Mamma said nothing, sipping her wine, aware of her sister’s glee.

      Aunt Clem chuckled.   “Yes, I’m sure you can.  You've always had a love for other people’s things, haven't you, Grace?”

The Dance,   copyright 2019 by T.L. Zempel
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