Two weekends before Christmas, McAlpin’s department store was bustling. In the fine china department where Jeff worked, sparkling crystal vases and gilt ornaments were flying off the shelves. Of course, it was just the time for her to get the stomach flu. She had thrown up that morning at home, and thought it was the chili dog and fries she’d eaten at the Paris Grille the night before, but whatever the cause, she knew it wasn’t going to be a good day.
At lunch, since she didn’t feel hungry, she decided to call Eric. In the two months since he’d left, they’d talked at least once a week. Jeff would tell him about cheerleading practice and school parties, while Eric spoke about some fancy place called Brunswick Prep. Imagining him meeting up after school with pretty girls in expensive clothes, Jeff couldn’t help feeling jealous. Toward the end she would try to steer the conversation toward how they might see each other again, but Eric would become vague and say he had to get off the phone. It took all of Jeff ’s self control to resist telling Eric that she loved him. He must feel the same, right? She hadn’t lost her virginity to him for nothing.
Sometimes at night, she would run her hands over the worn sheets of her narrow twin bed, pretending they were the luxurious ivory bedding she had lain on with Eric. Closing her eyes, she’d move her hands to her own body. He’d stroked her here; he’d kissed her there. Her nipples were especially sensitive but she touched them anyway, remembering how he’d put his mouth on them. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she slid a hand between her legs, trying to recapture the sudden surge of pleasure she’d felt with Eric. Each time she did, she missed him more than ever. She just had to hear his voice.
Jeff went to the department store’s phone booth, put coins into the slot, and waited for the phone to ring.
“Langvin residence,” a woman answered in a refined British accent.
“This is Anna Jefferson calling for Eric. May I speak with him please?” Jeff used her most dignified voice.
“Young Eric is not at home at the present, but I will certainly give him the message that you rang. Does he have your number?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jeff said, wanting to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
“Good day then, miss.”
As Jeff hung up, her heart felt heavy. Why did she think Eric would be home on a Saturday? He was probably out with his friends--or, she shivered--some girl, driving around, grabbing a bite to eat, going to the movies. She yearned to know what he was doing at that moment without her, but knew she couldn’t call him again for a while. She would just have to wait and see how long it took for him to call her back.
The rest of the day was a blur of wrapping gifts and trying to hold back her nausea. When she stepped through the front door that evening, the smell of the lasagna her mother had made for supper almost made her head straight for the bathroom. Jenny took one look at Jeff ’s pale face and asked, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you feel well?”
Jeff flopped down on the worn living room couch and confessed, “I feel terrible.”
Jenny tucked her into bed with soup and crackers, and after nib-bling a few, Jeff did feel a little better. But she was so exhausted that before she could take a sip of soup, she fell asleep, without thoughts of Eric or anything else.
The next morning, Jeff begged off from going to church, telling Jenny that she needed to rest. Once alone, she lay back in bed and tried to remember when she’d last had her period. Definitely before the whirlwind week in which she’d met Eric, because she was relieved that it wasn’t going to be a problem. But since then?
Jeff hadn’t thought much about her period since it had started when she was twelve, as it showed up faithfully every month. At the time, Jenny had given her a box of Kotex and a book called Becoming a Woman. “This book will tell you all the things you need to know, now that you’re a young lady,” she’d said. That was the extent of Jeff ’s mother teaching her how a woman’s body functioned.
Jeff had thrown the book in the corner and forgotten about it. When she’d told her friends, they’d laughed together over the words Becoming a Woman. Later, Jeff thought that becoming a woman meant falling in love and having sex, preferably in that order. Now that she’d slept with Eric, she definitely felt she was a woman. But was there more to that? As little as she knew about periods, Jeff did know that missing one could mean something monumental. . . something that could upend her life.
She needed to see a doctor. Jenny had mentioned taking her to see their family physician that Jeff had known since she was knee high to a grasshopper, but she certainly wasn’t going to see that old geezer, or for that matter, take the chance of being seen by anyone in Paris. She’d have to make a trip to Lexington, and as soon as possible. Looking through the phone book, she found a women’s clinic and planned to call them first thing the next morning to make an appointment.
Monday morning, Jeff woke up feeling queasy again, her stomach churning as she dressed for school. She dabbed some blush on her pale cheeks and faked her best smile as she walked into the kitchen, sitting down at the table just as Jenny placed a sunny-side egg, two slices of bacon, and some buttered toast in front of her.
“Mom, I don’t think my stomach is ready for that yet,” Jeff said. “Could I just have a plain piece of toast?”
“Certainly, Jeff.” Jenny looked at her, the worry lines between her eyes deepening. “Are you sure you don’t want to see the doctor?”
“I don’t think it’s that serious,” Jeff told her. “Actually, I think I might be on the mend.”
After eating her toast, she regained some strength and ran to catch the bus, eager to get out from under her mother’s watchful eye. At school, Jeff used the public phone to call the women’s clinic and was relieved to learn she could make an appointment for the following afternoon. She’d tell her friends she had terrible cramps from her period, and ask her mother to borrow the car so that she could work extra hours at McAlpin’s after school. Until then, she’d just have to try to keep herself from barfing at home or in class.
Only then did it occur to Jeff that Eric hadn’t called her back that weekend, and that she had barely thought about him since the unsuccessful phone call. If she needed to tell him something . . . well, she’d deal with that later.
* * *
The next afternoon, after walking out of the clinic, Jeff sat in her car. Her heart was pounding, little beads of perspiration moistened her hairline, and her hands were icy cold. Could it really be true? She lifted her shirt and ran her hands over her belly, flat as it had always been. But something was growing in there, and she didn’t know how to stop it from taking over her very being.
In a fog, Jeff drove home and walked through the door to find her mother, who had caught a ride home with a colleague, sitting in the living room.
“Everything all right, Jeff?” Jenny asked. “They’re not overworking you at McAlpin’s, are they?”
Jeff just shook her head, mumbled something about not being hungry, and went straight up to her room. In front of the full-length mirror she lifted up her shirt again, higher this time, trying to see any changes in her body. Her breasts were full and heavy, and her nipples ached with something more than longing. A wave of nausea rippled across her belly, the familiar feeling that had tormented her for the past few days. Gripped by a sudden rage, Jeff drove her fist into her own stomach. Breathless and stunned, she collapsed onto her bed and curled into herself, choking back sobs.
She cried until she could cry no more, and then she lay with glassy eyes staring up at the ceiling. Only one person could help her now. Eric. Eric needed to know. And when he did, he would make everything better. Jeff sat up and pushed back her hair, damp from her tears, eyes starting to glimmer with hope instead of despair. Maybe he would even want to marry her. Jeff could finish high school in Greenwich with the rest of the rich kids, and then she and Eric could start their life together. She wouldn’t be Anna James Jefferson anymore. She would be Anna James Langvin.
This thought sustained Jeff enough for her to get up, wash her face, and go downstairs to face her mother. If Jenny noticed any-thing was different about her, she didn’t show it. Instead, through dinner, she chattered away about her recent promotion to sales manager at the boutique and the pay raise that came with it. Jeff picked at her food and thought how awful it would be to be her mother’s age and stuck in a thankless job, standing on her feet all day helping well-to-do women try on fancy clothes that she’d never be able to afford. Although Jeff had decided a long time ago that she was going be the one wearing the clothes, she hadn’t yet been able to figure out how. Now she knew. It would be through Eric, and this baby was going to be her ticket to a better life.
Of course, if Eric ever returned her call. Jeff knew she couldn’t wait that long. That night, she concocted the perfect plan. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s, she’d travel to Greenwich to tell him the wonderful news in person. To her mother she’d say that the poverty awareness tour had invited the representatives from the schools they’d seen to pay them a return visit in Connecticut, all expenses paid. Didn’t Jenny want Jeff to have the opportunity to see more of the world, and for free? Jeff would type up a fake permission form at school for her mother to sign, and Jenny would be too preoccupied with her new job and the holiday shopping rush at the boutique to question it.
To get to Connecticut, Jeff would need money. Luckily, back when her mother and father had gotten divorced, Jenny had set up a savings account in both her and Jeff ’s names in case of emergencies. Jeff even had her own checkbook, although she’d never used it before. Hopefully Jenny wouldn’t find out how much money was withdrawn until much later, when Jeff was comfortably living with Eric. For a moment Jeff felt a pang of regret for abandoning her mother, but she knew Jenny would understand. What mother wouldn’t want the best for her daughter’s future, even if it meant being separated from her for the rest of her life?
Finally, Jeff reasoned that she would need a lavish wardrobe to look like the well-dressed girls she saw in Couture magazine, not like some hillbilly from Kentucky, when she would meet Eric’s parents. She needed to prove to them that she looked the part of their future daughter-in-law. Thankfully, she knew just how to do this. She would select her new wardrobe the following Saturday, the last day she worked at McAlpin’s before the new year. It wouldn’t be stealing, she told herself, but simply taking what she was owed after working there for so long.
Jeff had it all figured out, her set of lies, one on top of the other. While she had always told little white lies to her mother or her friends, it had never quite been on this level. But with this baby growing inside, she felt a deep, dark side of her oozing to the surface.
* * *
That Saturday, Jeff started to put her plan in motion. Although she no longer worked in the clothing department at McAlpin’s, she knew it inside and out. The fashion coordinators and their assistants were always pulling clothes for fashion shows and pushing around rolling racks. The fashion assistants were constantly changing, and there was a new girl every couple of months, but you could always spot them because they were attractive and had their noses in the air. Jeff had changed her clothes immediately following school, slipping into a dress and kitten heels. Then, with a smirk on her face so not a single salesclerk would dare ask any questions, she grabbed a rolling rack and headed straight for the designer area, where all the clothes she lusted after were displayed. Everywhere she looked were satin blouses and silk scarves, cash-mere sweaters and woolen trousers. Jeff loaded her rack with them, then added a few party dresses for options in case Eric wanted to take her out on New Year’s Eve. She could just picture how hand-some he’d look in a tuxedo.
A woman Jeff didn’t recognize touched her arm, startling her out of her reverie. “Miss, I wasn’t informed we were doing another fashion show right before Christmas.”
“I’m so sorry no one told you,” Jeff replied without missing a beat. “We’re just doing a last-minute thing for gentlemen to buy Christmas gifts for their wives.”
Although she still looked disapproving, the woman gave Jeff a single nod to proceed, and Jeff hastily rolled the rack out of her sight. Then, just like she had watched the fashion assistants do many times before, she rolled the rack out of the store and into the parking lot, where she laid the clothes on the back seat of the Pontiac. After returning the rack, she went back to the fine china department and finished up her shift. If all went well, this would be the last time she stepped foot in McAlpin’s.
Her next stop was the bank. Jeff didn’t know if she would need her mother to be with her to take out money, but the elderly teller behind the window hardly gave her a glance as Jeff handed her the withdrawal slip. With $500 in her purse, Jeff felt a little like a thief--although this was her own money, she reminded herself. She wasn’t sure if the amount was enough to cover the bus and train tickets, as well as other expenses, but she figured that once she got to Greenwich, Eric and his family would take care of her.
Jeff headed home with just one more step to complete. The previous day during study hall, she’d typed up a permission form about being invited to Greenwich by Eric’s school as the follow-up to their poverty awareness tour. Now, as she handed the form to her mother at the kitchen table, she explained how Amanda Brown, who had originally been selected to represent their school, had dropped out at the last minute.
“She had a family emergency . . . her grandmother passed away,” Jeff made up on the spot.
“I hope she’s doing all right,” Jenny said.
“Oh, she’s fine.” Jeff wished she had left out that last part about the grandmother. “So, can you sign the form?” She pushed the paper and pen toward her mother.
Jenny read it with more care than Jeff had expected. “Are you sure they’re paying for everything?” she asked. “It’s a big trip.” She had never let Jeff go farther from home than Lexington, or stay away longer than a weekend sleepover at a friend’s house.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Jeff reassured her. “I’ll be perfectly safe the entire time. Just think of the places I’ll see and the people I’ll meet. I might never get this chance again.”
Slowly signing the form, Jenny said, “I’ve always wanted to give you more, Jeff, you know that. But ever since your father left us, it’s been hard to make ends meet. I just wish things were different.”
“I understand, Mom,” Jeff said, giving her a hug. “Thank you for letting me go.”
Later that evening, upstairs in her room, Jeff could breathe a sigh of relief. In her closet, hidden behind her regular clothes, was her new, fancy wardrobe from McAlpin’s. Tucked in her dresser drawer, beneath her underwear, was a stack of ten- and twenty-dollar bills. All she had to get through now was Christmas, which ever since her father had left had been a quiet, even somber affair, usually church followed by a lunch prepared by her mother and an exchange of presents. Jeff had gotten a porcelain vase at a discount from McAlpin’s for Jenny. At the time, she’d wondered if she should buy something for Eric’s parents as well, but ultimately decided against it. Nothing in Paris was good enough for them, plus wasn’t the baby the real present? She could just imagine how excited they would be to find out about their grandchild.
By the following Monday she would be in Greenwich, knocking on Eric Langvin’s door. Jeff loved the name of where he lived. She opened up her school notebook, where she must have writ-ten “Anna James Langvin” more than thirty times in class this past week, and had carefully copied Eric’s phone number and address from the crumpled piece of paper he’d given her. She went to sleep that night with the name dancing through her dreams. Belle Haven . . . it sounded like a magical place.
(C) Deborah Robinson, Skyhorse, 2020. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Is blood truly thicker than water? After a desperate search for her birth mother, fashionista Lily Rose is forced to confront her turbulent past.
Love has set the tone for most of Lily Rose’s young life in Cumberland Falls, high in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. But her perfect world falls apart when her beloved adopted parents are tragically killed and she is sent to live at Red Rose Farm, in the Bluegrass. Lily starts high school and meets her first love, who introduces the idea of a much bigger world to Lily. This relationship spurs her to pursue the grit and glamour of the New York fashion world and a marriage that will nearly cause her demise.
Lily Rose follows Lily as she grows into a New York fashion icon and battles abuse, power struggles, and infertility. In the shadows, we learn about the young woman who gave Lily up and how they will collide. Lily Rose is about love and marriage, infidelity, infertility, and identity. It also calls into questions the old adages blood is thicker than water and nothing is more important than family. Will Lily Rose ever find what she has been searching for? And most importantly, will she be able to stay true to herself in the process?
Women's Fiction Psychological [Skyhorse, On Sale: August 25, 2020, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781510764057 / eISBN: 9781510764064]
Deborah Robinson is a fashion and lifestyle expert regularly appearing on the fifteen top media markets nationally and on cable talk shows. Previously, she was the national spokesperson for Petite Sophisticates, a retail chain of 350 specialty stores. She appeared regularly on national and regional television, as well as QVC, offering wardrobe and lifestyle trends. She was a contributing editor to Homes & Lifestyles Magazine and Palm Beach Style Magazine, and a regular fashion reporter for the WXIA NBC affiliate in Atlanta, GA. She was also the national fashion coordinator for Sarah Coventry, the largest costume jewelry company in the world. She lives in Palm Beach, Florida.
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