Tiara Wars

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In which we drop in on our heroine, Katie Warren, having a Very Bad Day and sitting in her car:

The phone clicked off and a volley of knuckles whapped the window beside my head. I jumped, risked a look and stifled a groan. Angela Kehoe. Of all the parking lots in all the strip malls in town, she had to pull into mine.

I powered down the window and said nothing, hiding behind my dark glasses. I did not smile.

“Why Katie! However are you?”

Saccharine sweet as always, the horrible harpy.

“We’ve missed you so at WLCS.”

That is, the Women’s League of Cross Springs, as previously mentioned. An institution Angela only breached due to the hefty influence of her mother-in-law, the formidable Estelle Kehoe. The standards of the WLCS have declined since the invasion of the Yankees and granola types from the west coast, according to Mother.

“When will you come back to meetings? The plans for our silent auction at the Old Fashioned Fourth have stalled without you riding herd on us to get it done. It really is time for you to get back out in the world, Katie, and figure out what you’ll do without Larry.”

The woman was beyond crass. I couldn’t believe she had the gall to act like she hadn’t ruined my life. She was something far beyond shrewish, but I didn’t know a term for it. Scum-sucking life destroyer, maybe?

I managed a semblance of a smile that probably looked as ghastly as it felt. “Angela. I wasn’t aware we had anything to say to each other.”

Her mouth hung open in an unattractive way, showing lots of capped teeth. She had no class when we were in elementary school together, always smacking gum, laughing too loudly and showing far too much emotion. Some things never change. “I wanted to tell you our good news. Alan was promoted to partner!”

My ears tingled and the top of my head burned. High blood pressure, I was sure. Angela Kehoe was going to kick off an embolism and deprive Callie of her remaining parent if I didn’t get a grip.

Angela babbled on. “We’re taking a trip to Fiji to celebrate. Isn’t it too much?”

Thank goodness the passenger door opened then. It kept me from lurching out the window and grabbing Angela by her stringy neck. Alan was a partner because Larry died and left that corner office open. And it was all Angela’s fault.

“Hey, Ms. Kehoe,” my well-trained daughter said. “Nice tan.”

Yes, if you liked the crispy-fried leather look. Callie didn’t. She was merely practicing the sort of honey-coated backslap she had witnessed her entire life. I am a bit ashamed to say I enjoyed watching her deliver it.

“I needed a base tan,” Angela trilled. “We’re going to—”

I powered up the window and cut off her gleeful “Fiji!”, threw the car in gear and backed out—startlingly close to Angela’s French-manicured toenails.

I felt Callie staring at me, but she did not mention the incident. Not yet. My baby possessed the keen sense of timing that had apparently deserted me these days.

“You used to freak out if my seatbelt wasn’t buckled when you put the car in gear,” she said.

No censure, but lots of curiosity. After all, I hadn’t reacted this strongly to anything since my last conversation with Angela—the day before Larry died.

“You’re practically grown now—seventeen. I trust you to strap yourself in these days. Anyway, you should be driving yourself around, not waiting on me.”

She stared out the window. “I’m not ready to drive.”

“You’ll have to get ready, Callie. Next year is it. Then you’ll be in college and need a car.”

She lifted a shoulder and her silky blonde ponytail slid over it. “Most schools don’t let you have a car on campus when you’re a freshman, anyway.”

“How will you get home when you want to visit?”

She shot me the cocky grin I almost never saw anymore. “You’ll come get me.”

I gave her a rare smile of my own. “Of course I will.”

The smile didn’t hold, though. My mind raced with visions of that wretched Angela Kehoe frolicking on the white sands of Fiji with her pasty lump of a husband. The one who now occupied Larry’s office.

Since I was still so angry at Larry, the vehemence of my fury at the Kehoes surprised me. Nothing like a writhing bundle of inner turmoil to interfere with rational thought.

“So, why did you almost run over Ms. Kehoe anyway?”

Ah, there it was at last. But this was not a conversation I planned to have with Callie. I arched an eyebrow at her. “Trust me, you really don’t want to know.” Callie had heard enough dirt during my years of WLCS committee work to believe it. “Sorry I was late, sweetie. I was in the garden.”

She gave me a head-to-toe, taking in my scraped back hair, dirt-caked fingernails, and grass stained toes. “You don’t say.”

“Give me a break. I didn’t have time to primp.”

She looked disgusted. “You never take time to look nice anymore. It’s like you don’t even care. Even though you never really go anywhere, people notice, Mom.”

I had no defense. I didn’t care what I looked like anymore.

Callie snorted in disgust. “You have all those stupid tiaras and stuff from a million pageants. I’d think you would care a little bit.”

“I’m doing the best I can.” My latest lie hung in the air, unbudged by the blast of arctic air blowing from the vents between us.

I rolled into our neighborhood, past the purely-for-show gatehouse, not seeing the manicured lawns and seasonal flags. Callie waved at the stay-at-home moms and retirees. With effort, I managed to give them a chin nod. I had lived in Cross Springs most of my life. Larry and I had lived in the lofty confines of Moss Rose Farms for twenty years. Larry chose the house. I got used to it.

At this point, it is worth noting that:

  1. I do not live in the wealthiest neighborhood in Cross Springs—those are populated mainly by Yankees and nouveau riche techie types living in what my friend Connie terms “McMansions.”
  2. Living in Moss Rose Farms was a choice Larry and I (sort of) made, despite the fact that we could afford a lovely old Victorian home in the more exclusive downtown area (where I grew up).
  3. Living in Moss Rose Farms ensured we rubbed elbows with persons who had no live-in help at all.
  4. We had no live-in help at all, at Larry’s insistence.

As I said, I had gotten used to it.

I paused next to my mailbox and Callie powered down the window to fetch the mail. “Wow, tons of cards again today.”

I swallowed a sigh. “Just put them in the kitchen with the others.”

I fished out my keys as I neared the door and heard the distinct click of doggy toenails on the tiled path, rounding the corner of my house from the patio. A horse-sized dog hurtled toward me and Callie, a stream of drool trailing behind him.

“Tuck!” Connie yelled.

I should have expected Connie to show up. Somehow, the quiet life I had worked hard to construct the past year had gotten really loud today—and crowded.

A few points about Connie Burns:

  1. She is not Women’s League material—never was, never will be.
  2. She does not care.
  3. She is sleek, career-oriented, a Yankee and disturbingly frank.
  4. My WLCS friends do not know what to make of Connie or our friendship.

Life had thrown me and Connie together four years ago when she decided to adopt her daughter Desi and I had, for the first time ever, defied Larry and foiled the sale of a house he owned. A house dear to my heart that he cared about only for the money. Connie and I had been friends ever since, despite our vast differences.

“Hello, Con.”

She sauntered around up the path, clicking her lime green stilettos in a more genteel way than her dog’s nails had. Stilettos, to walk the dog. 

“Decide to drop in unannounced?” I asked.

She knew how I felt about such things—not kindly—and gave me a cheeky grin. “Just walking Tuck and thought I would pop by. I know how you adore company.”

I knew better than to comment on her walking the dog in those shoes. I unlocked the door. “Come in. But Tuck has to—”

“Stay outside, I know. Come on, monster dog!”

“I’ll take him to the patio, Ms. Connie,” Callie said. She had a soft spot for dogs. Larry could never abide them. Neither could Mother. Therefore, we had never owned one, though Callie had begged for years.

Callie handed me the stack of mail and raced off with Tuck. Connie followed me into the too-cold kitchen. “Good Lord, it’s like a meat locker in here!”

I shrugged. “I know. We wear sweaters. I need to figure out how to change the settings on the thermostats, but…” Another shrug.    

I tossed the stack of mail on the island. A slow landslide of pastel envelopes headed for the edge of the stainless steel surface.

“Cripes, Katie. What is all this?”


“No, really?” She gave me her big-eyed, dumb bimbo look. She’s really good at it. Which is extra scary considering how wickedly smart she is.

“Sarcasm is quite unbecoming, Constance.” I drifted toward the sink. “It was a year ago today, you know. I suppose people remembered and thought to send cards.”

“And you think everyone remembered that? I can barely keep up with major holidays.”

I shrugged. “How else do you explain it?”

“Cross Springs CrossTalk. I guarantee they posted a reminder on the blog.”

“Not that again. I haven’t checked that thing in ages.”

“Well, you didn’t need to, did you? But I’d say that pile of cards is telling you something.” She sifted through the pile. “Nice of people to send cards, though. I suppose it’s another one of those things I never learned. Like at cotillion or whatever. Why haven’t you opened any of them?”

I grabbed a cloth and swiped at an imaginary stain on the counter. “Imaginary” because Inez had been here earlier today for our twice-weekly cleaning. I said no “live-in” help, recall, not no help at all. I had learned to cook and do light cleaning but was not inclined to scrub toilets. “I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

“Cause you’re so busy, right?”

“There’s no need to be nasty, Constance. I am as busy as I care to be.”

She shook cards at me. “People are trying to be nice to you. Why? I have no idea, since you’ve kept yourself totally secluded for the past year. Not only that, you’ve hardly been civil. You don’t return phone calls—even from me—you ignore invitations and can’t even bring yourself to wave at the neighbors.”

I scrubbed harder and tried to ignore the guilt crowding my brain. No good. I threw the cloth down and leaned against the counter, arms crossed. “I’m in mourning, Con.”

“You’re in something, but I’m not sure it’s that.”

“Explain yourself.”

Her eyebrows climbed. “Like you don’t know? Come on, don’t you look in the mirror anymore?”

Heat rose in my cheeks. “I know I’ve let myself go a little—”

“A little?” She dropped the cards and began pacing and ticking things off on her fingers. “You quit every group, club and committee you belonged to—a substantial list, might I add—you stopped going to any social events, you never show up for anything at church. Worst of all, you’ve completely let yourself go. Your skin, your nails, your clothes. Look at those sandals! Even your hair.”

She spoke like it was a cardinal sin. For a woman like me, it was. Connie was no cotillion-weaned belle, but she dressed well. Flashier than the WLCS could stomach, but she knew what a dyed-in-the-wool Leaguer should look like. I swallowed the lump in my throat and raised a self-conscious hand to my dry, sun-bleached hair.

“People have noticed all that, Katie. Big time. And you know they have. Let’s not be coy. You were kind of the queen bee of the social hive in Cross Springs.”

Guilt again, stronger than ever. Guilt truly is an unpleasant emotion. “But I thought everyone would get over it. They didn’t need me, they simply thought they did. Anything I ever did, someone else could have done just as well.”

She stopped in front of me and shook her head. “Not just as well. Not even close, in some cases. I heard about the silent auction for the Fourth. Sounds horrible. No one even approached my firm about making a donation and you know we’re always on the list since Bob Newsome’s wife Carol is in WLCS.”

I leaned toward her. “I’m not irreplaceable, Con.”

She leaned toward me until we looked like those boxers I had glimpsed at one of Larry’s sporting event viewings with his lawyer friends. “Yes, you are. Nobody else is you, Katie. You’re a freaking paragon around this town.”

“No, I’m not.”

She grabbed my upper arms and gave me a little shake. “I’m not going to fight with you. You know why you have that mountain of cards and I do, too. People want you to snap out of this funk you’re in and pull your shit together.”

I pulled back and leaned against the counter again. “I almost ran over Angela Kehoe’s toes a little while ago.”

She frowned at the non sequitur. “The Key ‘Ho?” Connie’s rude nickname for Angela, one of her most difficult clients ever. “Any particular reason?”

My heart pounded. I had to tell her—had to tell someone. The weight of suppressed emotion overwhelmed me. “Yes, actually, there is a reason I almost ran over her unfortunate pedicure. There’s also a reason I’ve let myself go and that I feel like I’m completely replaceable.”

The clock ticked. My heart pounded. My pride packed it in and left town in a hurry.

“A year ago, the day before he died, Angela Kehoe told me Larry was cheating on me.


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