Submitted Date 12/24/2019

The confidence boost that came from her new hairstyle put a spring in Jean's step as she headed to the tea parlor. More than once, she noticed the eyes of passing men linger a bit longer than was strictly polite. Although she wore a wedding ring, it still felt nice to be admired. When she joined Rose at the tea parlor both Mrs. Bell and their server remarked on how well the new style suited her. It was a shame then, to find the weather had cooled significantly while the two women had been sipping their Ceylon. Jean faced the choice of crushing her new curls under a hat or letting the wind nip at her ears. She was saved by her mother-in-law, however, who withdrew a kerchief from her handbag so Jean could gently cover her head on the way to the car.

After dropping Rose off back at home, Jean headed to her own house to start fixing dinner. As she was about to sit down and enjoy a steaming bowl of clam chowder and some freshly baked bread, her doorbell rang. Sighing and reluctantly putting down her spoon, she stood up and went to the door. On the other side of the door stood her neighbor, holding a cocktail shaker.

"Oh thank goodness you're home," she said, walking unbeckoned over the threshold. "I just have to get out of the house for a minute."

Jean offered some chowder, still warm on the stove. Ruth politely declined while she opened and closed cabinet doors, searching for a pair of cocktail glasses. Coming up empty-handed, she looked back at Jean with pleading eyes, rattling the ice in the shaker. Jean pointed to the cocktail cart positioned in the den. Hoping her chowder was still hot, she sat and dipped a slice of bread into the bowl.

"Stressful day?" she asked Ruth.

"We had a visit to Doc Roberts today, to get little Jack his shots. What a terror he was! I've only just now got him to calm down," she replied.

She'd retrieved two martini glasses from the den and was pouring a Mary Pickford for herself and one for Jean. Jean accepted the sweet beverage gratefully. Ruth sat across from her and sipped from her own glass. She continued to fill in the details of Jack's trip to the doctor's office while Jean finished her dinner. Apparently, it had been quite the ordeal, involving a temper tantrum, an overturned flowerpot, a broken toy zebra, and a biting incident. Privately, Jean wondered if she'd have the same problems with her own children, or if it was a symptom of doting parents. Once she wiped the bowl clean with a last scrap of bread, she took her dishes to the sink and directed Ruth to sit in the den. After the dishes were cleaned and put away, Jean positioned herself on the sofa facing the armchair Ruth had chosen.

"Oh. I almost forgot to tell you, the service for that man, Arnold Barnes, is on Thursday. Nine a.m. Do you think you'll come? I really think you should. Give the family a chance to say thank you. Might be good for you too. You know, closure and all," Ruth said.

"I don't really need attention from the family, Ruth. I didn't save him, remember?"

"No, but you did your best. The poor man practically died in your arms."

"They might blame me for not doing enough. Besides, it's such a personal event. I'm not sure the Barnes's would want a stranger intruding." Jean took another sip of her cocktail.

"That's a shame. With our regular girl taken sick and all, I was hoping you could help out with the ushering. You know, help people find their seats and all"

"You should have come right and said you needed a hand. I can help on one condition; that you don't tell anyone how I knew Mr. Barnes."

"Fine. But I really think you should let them thank you. Saving a person's life isn't a small favor."

"Ruth. I didn't save his life. We're talking about his funeral, remember?"

"But you tried dear. That's what matters." Ruth gave Jean's knee a pat as she rose from her chair. "And now, I think I'd better go back to the house and check on the boys. By the way, I adore your new hairstyle, Jean."

Jean walked her to the door and the two ladies said their goodnights. Back in the kitchen, Jean rinsed her glass and used a dishcloth to dry it. As she set it back on the den's cocktail cart, she had to admit she was curious. She was curious to see who was going to be there, she was curious to see how the wife would act, and she was curious about just how much money Mrs. Barnes stood to inherit. The funeral would be a good excuse to be a fly on the wall.



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