For Now and Forever
THE MONROE HOME – LIVING ROOM
“E-Excuse me?” Stephanie Monroe eyed her husband, Patterson, in bewilderment. Surely she was mistaken. It almost sounded as if he was asking her to quit her job on the most popular afternoon serial on WALB Radio. “I’m sure I couldn’t have heard you correctly. It sounded like you said….”
“I said that I think it might be a good idea for you to quit working at the radio station,” he said again in a tone that clearly implied that he thought what he was suggesting was the most logical thing in the world. “If you didn’t have to be at the station nearly every afternoon, you wouldn’t have to rush around here like a chicken with its head cut off trying to make it in time for….”
“Absolutely not,” she interrupted with a firm shake of her head. “There’s no way I’m doing that.”
“Steph, be reasonable.” Patterson reached out for her but she quickly pulled away from him. “There’s no logical reason for you to be….”
“I said ‘no,’ Paddy,” she snapped angrily. “And when I say ‘no,’ I mean no!”
CALLISON PUBLICATIONS – CHARLES’S
“Agnes said for me to come right on in,” Trevor Callison said as he came through the door of his father’s office, a thick envelope tucked under his arm. When he realized that his older brother, Reginald Callison, and company attorney Douglas Davis were also present, he paused for a moment, quickly assuming that he was interrupting something important.
“Did you bring the papers?” Charles asked, rising from his seat behind his desk and motioning for his son to come on into the room.
“Right here,” he replied and handed his father the envelope. “Sara sounds really eager to work with us on Thornton Preston’s manuscripts. I didn’t have any problem at all getting her to sign the papers.”
“Good, good,” Charles nodded. “Sara’s a smart girl. I’ve always liked her. I didn’t think there’d be a problem.”
“So…. Am I interrupting something?” Trevor asked as his eyes moved from his father to Douglas before landing on Reginald. “Shouldn’t you be at home with Jillian? Didn’t she just get out of the hospital today.”
“She did,” he nodded, “but we have this meeting scheduled with Orin Macalister. Maggie was there when I left.”
“We’re hoping we can finally persuade Macalister into signing that contract with us.” Charles returned to his seat behind his desk and began organizing papers and documents for the meeting. “I thought Douglas would’ve gotten him to sign when he went out to California, but….”
“He’ll sign,” Douglas quickly spoke up. “I’m sure of it.”
“And when he does, Douglas, we’ll owe it all to you and the ground work you laid with him. If you keep doing good work like this with your contracts, our stable of talented and sellable writers is going to be well stocked.”
“Speaking of which….” Trevor hesitated for a moment as he considered whether it was the proper time to bring up a question that had been lingering on his mind. “I know that Douglas was instrumental in signing Thornton Preston and he’s the person who primarily dealt with him before he died. Why isn’t he dealing with Sara about those manuscripts you want to publish?”
“I thought you’d be a better fit to work with Sara, honestly,” Charles explained. “I know that the two of you are friends and could work well together. Besides… well… I thought you needed something substantial to occupy your time.”
“What you mean is that you wanted to make sure I was too busy to keep looking for Grace, don’t you?” Trevor looked his father dead in the eyes before turning to look at Douglas in a way that silently accused him of complicity in the matter. Before anyone had a chance to address Trevor’s accusations, there came a knock at the door.
“Mr. Callison,” his secretary, Agnes Martin, poked her head into the office, “Mr. Macalister is here. Should I… have him wait for a moment?”
“No, send him right on in.”
As the four men waited anxiously for their first group meeting with famed adventure novelist Orin Macalister, Trevor shot both his father and Douglas a silent glare that let them know that their previous discussion regarding Thornton Preston and his search for Douglas’s sister, Grace, wasn’t finished.
“Gentlemen!” Orin called out as he came into the office, a boisterous and dynamic figure who instantly commanded everyone’s attention. “It’s good to finally meet you, Mr. Callison. Your man Douglas here has told me lots of good things about you and your company.”
Orin extended his hand to Charles, who promptly shook it, before offering his hand to the others.
“You already know Douglas,” Charles began the introductions. “This is my oldest son, Reginald, who’s in charge of our newspaper, the Daily Post – he has quite a few wonderful ideas about serializing portions of your next novel in the Sunday edition of the Post – and this is my other son, Trevor, who’s currently working with the estate of the late Thornton Preston to bring the remainder of his novels to print under the Callison banner.”
“I can tell you have fine boys, Mr. Callison.”
“Thank you.” Charles maneuvered his way back to his desk so that he could have easy access to the notes, files, and legal documents he needed to help seal the deal with Macalister. “But, in all seriousness, let’s get down to business. As I’m sure Douglas explained to you during his trip to California….”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Macalister nodded with a sigh and a wave of his hand. “You want me to sign with your company and allow you to handle the exclusive publishing and handling rights of my next four books. Douglas here more than went over that.”
“Well, he indicated to me that you had some sort of problem with the contract.”
“Oh, I had no problem with the contract at all,” Macalister laughed. “In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s a damn good deal. It’s no secret that I’ve been really happy with my most recent arrangements for quite a while.”
“Then I don’t understand why Douglas couldn’t get you to sign.”
“Mr. Callison, did you really expect me to put my signature on anything that I haven’t had thoroughly looked over by my own counsel?” Macalister let out a hearty laugh. “Besides, I wanted to make this trip and meet the people behind the contract in person.”
“Then you’re willing to sign the contract?’
“Of course!” Macalister laughed again. “Now, are you going to give me the damn thing to sign, or are we going to drag this out all blessed day? I’d hoped that we could get all of this taken care of pretty quickly. I’ve got a lot of other more important things to take care of today than worry with some fool contract.”
SPRINGHILL MANOR – LIBRARY
“Now, if you’d stop leaving your empty glasses all over the house, I wouldn’t have to follow along behind you picking up after you,” Helga Grimm pointed out to her employer, Dane Manchester, as she gathered up an assortment of cocktail glasses from various points in the room.
“If I’m not mistaken, that’s what you get paid to do, Helga.” Dane barely made the effort to even look up from the latest edition of the Daily Post. “You’re our housekeeper – keep house! Or should we replace you full time with Naomi?”
“You really do want this place to look like a pigsty, don’t you?”
As Helga carried the glasses out of the room, Dane heard the front door opening and closing followed, moments later, by his wife, Sara, coming into the room.
“Did you have a good meeting with Trevor?” he asked, still focused on the newspaper.
“We got a lot of details ironed out. I think we’re going to work really well together.” She paused when she realized that all of his attention remained focused on the newspaper. “Is there… anything important in the paper today?”
“Just this wire service report about Father’s political campaign,” he muttered before folding up the paper and tossing it aside. “I can’t wait until this entire mess is over. Good Lord willing, he’ll lose and I’ll never have to hear about his political aspirations ever again.”
“I thought you wanted your father to win.”
“I want whatever he wants me to want, whether I really want it or not,” Dane grumbled. “If Father wants my full and open support, then that’s what he’ll have.”
“I still don’t think he likes me,” Sara muttered, remembering their trip to Chicago and her less than positive first meeting with Dane’s parents.
“Oh, I’m sure he likes you well enough – you are a pretty young girl, after all – but his approval is another story. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily worry about that, either, because Father doesn’t approve of anyone. Hell, he doesn’t even approve of me half the time.”
Dane looked up at Sara and noticed the troubled expression on her face. He quickly realized that discussing his father had brought up her own feelings of social awkwardness where his parents were concerned and he rose from his seat and went to her.
“Honey, don’t worry about my parents.” He cupped her face with his hands and gently brushed away the beginnings of a tear that had started to form in the corner of her eye. “I could’ve married a royal princess and I bet they’d still find some reason to disapprove. Their feelings on the subject don’t mean a single thing to me. I… I probably don’t say it enough but… I love you, Sara. I really do.”
“Oh, Dane!” An emotional Sara threw her arms around her husband’s neck and hugged him tightly. “I just… feel so horrible for having forced you into this marriage – a marriage you didn’t really want – and how your father cut you off and….”
“You listen to me, Sara – I don’t want you to ever think about that again. Whatever happened in the past – whatever the actual reason was for us getting married – we are married now and I take that very seriously. You’re my wife and I love you – don’t you ever forget that. No matter what I’ve ever done or whatever I might do, I’ll always love you.”
“Oh, Dane,” she cooed softly, filled with tender emotion, and hugged him even more tightly.
Privately, as Dane held his wife in his arms, he couldn’t help but think about how much truth his words contained. Yes, they’d married under far less than ideal circumstances and he’d resented her for forcing him into a marriage he hadn’t wanted and, yes, that resentment, compounded with his anger over her presumed duplicity in regards to Mr. Preston, had led to him engaging in some rather unsavory illicit endeavors; but deep down he was forced to realize that he did truly love her. That revelation made him realize that the last thing in the world he wanted was for Sara to be hurt.
“Oh, I love you,” she sighed before kissing him softly on the lips. “I feel… so foolish for letting myself get so emotional over what your parents think about me.”
“Don’t ever let them or anyone else make you feel like you aren’t good enough.”
“I… I think I’m going to go check on Naomi and see if she needs any help with the baby before lunch.”
Sara walked towards the large wooden doors that led towards the foyer, but paused and turned around to give Dane one last, loving look before exiting. Once she’d gone, he couldn’t resist the urge to pick the newspaper back up and reread the article regarding his father’s political campaign. Unfortunately, before he’d had a chance to get very deeply into the article, the robust sound of applause began to echo through the room. Startled by the unexpected sound, Dane quickly turned towards the doors to the foyer.
“Bravo!” his mother-in-law, Joyce Preston, applauded in her typical arrogant and smug tone, “Bravo!”
Dane froze at the sight of Joyce. Her tone instantly told him that she was up to something and he couldn’t avoid becoming uneasy about what it might be.
THE MONROE HOME – LIVING ROOM
“If you think I’m going to up and quit my job at the radio station, you’ve gone and lost your mind!” Stephanie snapped angrily as she glared at her husband. “I can’t even believe that you’d ask me to do that. You know how much this means to me.”
“I’m not saying you have to do it right this second, honey,” Patterson said softly in a metered and even tone as he slowly motioned with his hands in an attempt to calm her down and prevent her from becoming even more agitated. “If you want to keep working on this radio serial until you have the baby, that’s fine, but after the baby’s born….”
“After the baby’s born, once Dr. Hardy says it’s all right, I have every intention of going back to work. There’s simply no reason why I can’t.”
“Of course there’s no reason why you can’t; I just don’t know why you’d want to. You getting that role on that radio serial was just a fluke anyway. You only took the job because you needed some way to support yourself after your mother died. Now that we’re married, there’s really no reason why you have to work. I only let you because I knew it would give you something else to do with your time while I was taking this summer class.”
“You only let me?” Stephanie felt her blood pressure start to rise and she threw her shoulders back as she instinctively prepared for a fight.
“The baby will be here before we know it – whether we’re ready for it or not – and I don’t see how it’s even conceivable that you’ll have the time to take care of both a newborn and Todd and keep up a regular job.”
Patterson had continued on without even noticing, let alone acknowledging, his wife’s strong reactions to what he was saying.
“First of all, Patterson,” she finally spoke up, unable to listen to any more and remain silent, “No one let’s me do anything.”
“Steph, honey, you know what I mean. I’m just trying to point out that we’re married now – I’m your husband – that gives me certain responsibilities which include providing for my wife and family. You should’ve have to work.”
“I don’t have to work!” she snapped. “I want to work! I enjoy it! Besides, it’s not as if you actually have job. We’re living off the trust fund your parents left for you and Todd.”
“That’s only while I’m still in school,” he reminded. “As soon as I make it through medical school….”
“And that’s how far away? If I can do something – anything – to help out with the money, then I should!”
“No, Paddy, you listen to me.” She took a step back and inhaled deeply in an attempt to calm herself down. “I’ve never been good at anything in my entire life besides flirting with boys. When Momma died, I didn’t have one single usable skill to support myself until Mr. Lowell hired me to be on this radio show. But you know what, Paddy? I’m good at it! I’m actually good at it! And I enjoy it! I’m not willing to give that up.”
“I understand that, but…”
“Fall will be here before you know it,” she continued on without giving Patterson a chance to divert her train of thought. “Todd will be starting school. The Fall term will be starting up for you, too. That’ll leave me here all by myself for most of the day with nobody else but Mrs. Oliver.” She paused and scrunched up her nose in disgust. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much I look forward to that. I’m not even on the air for 15 minutes a day – and not every day at that – and I’m only out of the house four, five hours at the most on the days I am on the air.”
“But once the baby comes in the Spring….”
“I’ll take a suitable and responsible maternity leave,” she nodded in agreement. “But when the time comes, I’m going back to work at the station. If I had to be stuck here in the house with the baby and Mrs. Oliver looking over my shoulder all day, every day, I think I’d lose my mind without something else to do.”
“Well, perhaps if you took up a hobby like needlepoint,” Patterson shot back in retort.
“I don’t know how to do needlepoint.”
“I could always ask Lorraine to come over and teach….”
Stephanie’s eyes grew wide and she recoiled as if she’d just been physically slapped.
“Like hell you’ll have that woman come over here and show me anything!” Stephanie snatched up her purse and pushed her way past Patterson as she headed for the front door. “If you wanted a wife who had all the simple, mundane hobbies that Lorraine has, perhaps you should’ve married her instead of me!”
“Now, Stephanie, I didn’t mean….”
“I’m not discussing this with you anymore right now. Because of you, I’m late for the station and I can just imagine what Norma is telling Mr. Lowell about me!”
As Stephanie slammed the front door behind her, the sound echoed throughout the house, forcing Patterson to quickly realize that, perhaps, he might have handled that entire situation just a tad better.
THE GARDENS RESTAURANT – MAIN DINING
“I don’t know why we couldn’t have handled all of this at the office,” Douglas said as he pulled a stack of papers and documents out of his briefcase. “From the way you were talking, you sounded like you were all ready to sign the contracts and….”
“I am, Boy, I am!” Orin Macalister slapped his hands down onto the table boisterously to punctuate his words. “But I don’t see any reason why we can seal the deal over a couple of drinks, do you? I’ve always said that there’s nothing a man can’t settle over a couple of drinks.”
Douglas quickly began to feel his pulse race and his mouth go dry. Although he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, something in his gut was filling him with a rather strong sense of anxiety and apprehension.
“I still don’t understand why you acted like you didn’t want Charles to come along.” Douglas began thumbing through the stack of papers until her found all of the contracts that he needed Macalister to sign. “It’s only logical that he should be here – you are signing on with his company and….”
“Now, I know that Mr. Callison is a nice enough fellow, but he seems… how shall I put this… a little stuffy.” Macalister threw back his head and downed the last of his cocktail – barely even leaving a single drop left in the glass – and motioned for the waiter to bring him another one. “Just between you and me, if I’d had to base my decision on just meeting him, I don’t think I would’ve even considered signing on with you folks. An Orin Macalister novel is full of adventure and action. I’m not exactly sure old Callison has ever seen either one of those two things. Seems to me that man has been raised rather – how shall I say it – soft.”
“I’m really not sure you can make such a blanket judgment about a man you’ve just met. I don’t think you have any way of knowing the type of man Charles Callison really is.”
Macalister paused and took a lengthy sip of the drink the waiter had just brought him.
“I’m surprised that you haven’t even ordered a drink yet. I suggested this little get-together here to cut loose a tad and celebrate me signing this contract. You’re sitting over there all stiff as a board.”
“I think you’re over exaggerating.” Douglas laughed as he fidgeted nervously in his seat. “I think it might be a little too early in the day for me to be throwing back drinks when I still have a lot of work left to do at the office that requires a clear head.”
Macalister slid back into his seat and silently stared at Douglas for several minutes as if he were mentally re-evaluating him.
“I’m starting to think I’ve misjudged you, Douglas,” he finally said, taking another swallow of his drink. “You weren’t uptight like this when we were in California. If you’d given me any indication that you were some kind of stuffed shirt, I wouldn’t even have looked twice at your publishing house.”
“But, Mr. Macalister….”
“I’m sorry, Douglas, but I write adventure books set in exotic places. I don’t think some stuffy, pretentious publishing company who would clearly have no idea how to market my books is the right fit for my material. I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake.”
As Macalister downed the last of his drink and rose to leave, Douglas began to panic. Charles had placed a lot of responsibility on his shoulders to iron out the details of the contract with Orin Macalister and convince him to sign. Despite his best efforts, he hadn’t fully succeeded in garnering Macalister’s signature during his trip to California, but he’d been assured that the dynamic writer was a shoe-in to sign the contract and the meeting with Charles was only a mere formality. Now, through a bewildering turn of events, the most important deal Douglas had ever been responsible for was quickly slipping away.
“Wait, Mr. Macalister!” Douglas quickly jumped to his feet and grabbed the novelist by the arm. “I’m afraid you’re about to make an even greater mistake. Callison Publications is a perfect fit for your work and if you’ll give me another chance to convince you of that, I’m sure you’ll be signing this contract on the dotted line before you know it. I… admit that I’ve been a little reserved this afternoon, but that’s only because of how seriously the company and I take your account. If you remember correctly, things got a little bit… well… out of hand during my visit to California.”
“Ah, yes, I remember,” Macalister laughed heartily. “Well, most of it, at least.”
“Please, if you’ll just have a seat…?” Douglas motioned towards the chair with one hand and waved for the waiter with the other. “Another bourbon and water for Mr. Macalister and… I’ll have the same.”
“Excellent!” Macalister sat back down at the table and began to grin from ear to ear. “Now this is more like it. And, please, Douglas, call me ‘Mac’ – all my friends do.”
SPRINGHILL MANOR – LIBRARY
“What the devil are you going on about,” Dane grumbled as he attempted to pay Joyce’s unexpected appearance as little attention as possible.
“Your performance – ‘Oh, Sara, I love you. I love you’” she mocked wickedly and then let out a hearty laugh. “What a performance. I’d say it was almost award worthy.”
“It was not a performance. I meant every word.”
“Oh, did you?” A sly smirk crossed her lips. “Considering your behavior these last few months, you could’ve fooled me. Of course, I’m far less easy to fool than my stupid daughter.”
Unable to ignore her any longer, Dane glared at Joyce as he attempted to figure out what she was prattling on about. Surely, Joyce didn’t know about Kitty. Surely she wasn’t the one behind the scandalous photographs.
“But, then again, perhaps my daughter isn’t as stupid as she seems.” Joyce sauntered around the room with the stealthy grace of a wild cat circling its prey. “I mean she is rather foolish, of course, but I don’t think she’s truly stupid. Certainly she has some smarts if she managed to con you into a marriage you didn’t want. Of course, I don’t know exactly how she did it, but the details really don’t matter. I know how you truly feel about this… arrangement.”
“You don’t know anything about my relationship with Sara.” He avoided using the word “daughter” because it had become more and more apparent that Joyce’s relationship to Sara was entirely in name only. “I love my wife very much.”
“So you keep saying. But I find it quite hard to believe that anyone who’s as much in love with a woman as you keep going out of your way to claim to be would have to be coerced – no, forced – into marriage. As I’ve heard it, you were far from an enthusiastic participant in your wedding.”
“Even though I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the prospect of marriage at the time, that doesn’t change the way I feel about Sara right now – she’s my wife and I love her very much.”
Dane was quickly finding himself growing more and more irritated by Joyce’s bombardment of insinuations. Of course, it wasn’t what she was saying that was getting under his skin, it was how accurate and astute everything was. No, he didn’t want to marry Sara in the beginning. That was far from a big secret. However, despite everything that had happened and his own less than noble behavior, he did actually love Sara.
“Well, if you happen to love my daughter so much, then what do all of those other women in your life mean to you?”
Joyce’s cold and calculated question struck Dane like a sudden slap and so many things immediately became clear to him. She knew about Kitty. And if she knew about Kitty, then….
“What the hell are you talking about?” he asked as he tried to react nonchalantly. “What ‘other women’ are you talking about?”
“I have a feeling you know exactly what and whom I’m talking about,” she cooed in a breathy yet sinister tone. “And my best advice to you is that you better make sure you hold up your end of our agreement concerning getting our hands on that estate my dear late Thornton left that conniving daughter of mine or else.”
“Or else what?”
“Or else I’d hate to have my dear, precious Sara find out all about you and that pretty lounge hostess. It would so break her heart.” She sauntered slowly over to the desk, a wary Dane close behind her, and proceeded to open her handbag, producing copies of the exact same incriminating photographs Dane had received. Joyce slammed the pictures down onto the desk and grinned devilishly. “And you know how much I’d hate for anything to happen to my darling daughter.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Two very different groups enjoy an evening at Lady J’s.
For Now and Forever
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