Theodore became instantly distracted by the bouncing bosom before him.
“Well, don’t you recognize me? It’s me, old Evie Harling… well, not THAT old! Ha! Well, I suppose it has been a long time. Life in the Big Apple has me positively buzzing! Found a little niche in the East Village and got myself a job singing at a nightclub. A nightclub! Can you imagine little ol’ me up on a stage? I’m afraid I’ve become very cosmopolitan! Oh, but I recognized you right away, Teddy-boy. My, my how you’ve… (she wandered her eyes from the tip of his scuffed boots to the top of his still-glistening hair)… grown!”
Teddy’s new-found confidence became about as strong as a pool of melted butter. “Yeah, uh… Y… (gulp)… yes.”
Walter cleared his throat. Teddy snapped out of it. “Uh, yes, Mr. Mason. I came right over because– well, Sir, may I have a word with you privately?”
Eve’s eyebrows raised, “Oh my!”
“Certainly, Theodore. We’ll just step outside,” Walter said, ignoring Eve altogether. And Teddy followed Walter just down the hall to a pair of french doors leading to the back patio.
“Well, I’ll just be in here when you come back, Teddy! Do come back! The party’s winding down but we’ll have a nightcap before I go.”
Teddy, already outside, looked at her over his shoulder and grinned. Walter, who was about to shut the door, turned to his “niece” and asked, after a moment of looking upon her with pitying eyes, “Aren’t you tired, my dear?”
“Tired? Why didn’t you hear me tell Teddy? I work at a nightclub, I’m just waking up!”
He sighed. “Oh, Evelyn… That isn’t my meaning at all.”
Eve exhaled a nervous laugh and looked at him in self-conscious confusion. Walter dipped his head and turned toward the yard, closing the door behind him. Eve lingered. Walter’s question hung in the air and its real intention sank into her stomach. She couldn’t control the swell of tears that emerged. Too many years of pretending will do that to a person. She dashed into the loo and stood there in the dark for just long enough to let out a good burst of a cry. Then, she composed herself and turned on the light to assess the damage.
Her big green eyes were now surrounded by stripes of mascara. She ran the water and delicately wiped at her face so as not to disturb the rest of her makeup. She looked around her. The opulence was nauseating. The gold encrusted mirror before her, the satin-textured wallpaper around her, the Turkish rug under her feet… even the pull for the toilet had a hand-painted, porcelain and silver handle. Eve’s blood boiled at the thought of Annabell getting all this while she herself had been forced to scratch and claw her way to staying alive. Wicked Annabell, she thought. If anyone is tired it ought to be her. She’s the biggest liar of us all…
But Eve hadn’t come to the Mason house to ruin Annabell’s day (though it was a nice perk, as far as she was concerned). She hadn’t come to flirt with Teddy or chit-chat with Uncle Walter. Eve had come for only one reason….
She opened the bathroom door and saw, down the hall, that most the guests were leaving. She still had a few minutes before anyone would notice. She went the long way around the dining room and made her way up the back staircase. She knew this house well and knew exactly what hallways lead where, exactly which rooms were whose, and exactly whose rooms had pathways through closets into other rooms.
The only trick would be getting into the first room– Walter and Dorothy’s suite. The only access was their bedroom door, which was at the top of the main staircase and quite visible to anyone in the foyer or the study. She peeked around the wall and over the banister to see what company was there. Only a handful. And when the tops of everyone’s heads dipped to stare at Dorothy’s new brooch, she had the perfect opportunity. Swift as a lark, she ducked into the master suite.
Once inside the room, Eve went straight to the closet without bothering to indulge her envy in the luxurious surroundings. She pushed through Dorothy’s old fur coats and felt for the handle on the wall. Old houses like these were always built with closet passages from room to room in the event of a fire. The sliding door behind the clothes glided open easily and Eve wriggled herself into the closet of the next room.
Just as she reached to open the closet door into the adjoining bedroom, she heard Walter and Dorothy step into the master suite. She froze.
Dorothy was in no mood– “The guests aren’t gone yet, dear. It’s impolite for me to leave them. What is so–”
Walter finished her sentence. “What is so important is that I’ve just had a visit from Theodore Wentworth with some bothersome news.”
Dorothy paused. “Oh?”
“Yes, it seems his brother, Jason, is back in town and was just released from the county jail.”
“Oh, that family. Well, what has it got to do with us?” She asked, impatiently.
“Jason had been arrested on suspicion of burglary this evening–”
“The Campbells!? Why they’re (counting to herself), one-two-three… four houses down!”
“Yes, dear. Theodore thought we ought to be aware and take extra precautions over the next few weeks or so, in case he decides to pay us a visit.”
“Oh, that family!”
“Well, in any case, they couldn’t prove it was him so he was released, and he’s back in Savannah, and I don’t really care one way or the other since the last time I saw him he met my shotgun and knows that I don’t mind using it. I just thought you ought to know so you can put away your jewelry and whatever else you think prudent.”
They stared at one another for a moment. Dorothy turned to leave, but glanced over her shoulder. It had been a long time since they’d stolen a moment away from a party to whisper in a bedroom. It used to be for a very different reason.
“Thank you for telling me, Darling.”
Walter looked at the woman he loved– or, had once loved. But the divide from then to now was so great that it simply seemed easier to live with one another as they were, than to try taking a step in a new (and kinder) direction. “Well, it isn’t like you wouldn’t have found out from all your hens, anyway.”
There was silence and then Eve heard the bedroom door open, their footsteps exiting, and the door closing behind them. She caught her breath. Jason was back.
The truth was that she had moved to New York when she was sixteen to get away– not just from everyone in Savannah–– but from Jason Wentworth. They had been sweethearts. He was her first love. (Well, what one calls “love,” another calls obsession– and another calls a crush, and still another calls infatuation. Whatever you call it, Jason was Eve’s.) He was of a slender build, and pale with that sort of Irish coloring– black hair and ice-blue eyes. He was so terribly handsome, and didn’t he know it. Well, when a “bad-boy” baited a hook, Eve bit. Throughout the weeks they had dated, she became desperate for his approval. She had started asking Jason to teach her things, like picking locks and how to steal from the market without getting caught (which was an especially despicable crime, since his parents owned the store). One night, when those southern fireflies were aglow, and after they had successfully stolen the mayor’s new fancy car for a joyride– Jason leaned her down into his Irish arms, in the soft, leather back seat, and took the last of her sweet virtue.
She was so in love. When she didn’t hear from him the next day, she thought it was because he had gotten caught with the mayor’s car. But then three days went by without a word. She went to his house, but Lolly (his mother) had said that she hadn’t seen him for a few days. Then, walking home, she heard his laugh from behind the local brewery. She smiled and ran towards his voice, but had stopped when she heard her name spoken by another boy, whose voice she recognized from school.
“Eve Hayworth!? No kidding?”
“She was ripe, too, buddy.”
The boys laughed. Jason spoke again. “You should hear the noises they all make the first time!” And then he proceeded to act out a series of groans and gasps, and all those lovely, intimate and vulnerable utterances– now reduced to a cigarette-break joke.
“You gonna see her again?”
“What for?” Jason said.
“I dunno– she seemed pretty easy, you could probably keep that going for a little while anyway. Just for fun.”
“Easy? I had to work at that for three weeks!”
They laughed again. Eve felt sick.
“Was she worth it?”
Eve swallowed, her eyes filling with tears.
“Eh, I’ve had better.”
Eve turned and wrapped her arms around herself. She buried her head in her chest and walked swiftly back toward her house. When she couldn’t contain it anymore, she vomited into brier patch off the sidewalk.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of her sickness. A few weeks later the vomiting started up again… in the mornings to be exact. Soon, it was time to decide what would be done with the girl. The shame upon her father, Edgar, and mother, Julia, would have ruined the Hayworth name. There was only one thing to be done. Eve was sent to “visit her grandmother” in New York, which was, in fact, code for being sent to a nunnery (how archaic!) to be cared for until the child was born, given to an orphanage, and Eve had recovered sufficiently to return home looking well.
Now, around the time Eve discovered her condition, her Aunt Dorothy was also discovered to be pregnant. It was a shock, since Annabell was ten years old and everyone assumed that she would be an only child. Eve never worked out the details, but somewhere close to the Mason child’s due date, Dorothy tragically lost the baby. Julia Hayworth was there to help Dorothy on the day it happened, and, in the mind-numbing pain, together, they hatched a plan.
They hatched a plan that placed Eve, eight years later, standing in a closet and cracking open the door to longingly stare in on a sleeping, red-headed boy… called Walter.