Although she did not recognize the voice, Allison shifted the phone to her other hand and responded to the question. “Yes, this is Mrs. Holloway. Who’s calling, please?”
“Brice Tomlinson. We met at the Homeowner’s Association Meeting.”
“Oh, yes. I remember. You spoke against doubling our HOA fees.” The distinguished gentleman impressed her with his extensive vocabulary—not to mention his dapper appearance. It didn’t hurt that she completely agreed their neighborhood association took itself far too seriously.
“I was wondering if you could meet me at the Corner Coffee Shop at the golf course,” Brice said. “I’d like to discuss something with you. Something more conducive to a face-to-face meeting.”
“I suppose so,” Allison replied. “But I have to warn you I cannot agree to serve on another board or committee. My calendar is booked for the coming year.”
“No problem. This is a different kind of matter altogether.”
Allison opened the door to her walk-in closet. “In about an hour, then?”
“Oh, that’s fine. Thank you for accommodating me.”
Slipping out of her silk negligee, Allison decided she felt like wearing blue this morning. She moved past the reds, greens, and purples to the section where the blues hung. After a moment, she chose navy slacks and a short-sleeved pullover. She added a linen jacket before expertly draping a colorful scarf around her shoulders.
Downstairs, she popped into the kitchen. “Mmm, something smells good in here.”
“Cinnamon yeast rolls,” Allison’s housekeeper, Sylvia, said with a wide grin. “They’ll be done in four or five more minutes.”
“Tempting, but I have to run.” Allison fished keys from her handbag. “I’m going to a short meeting at the golf course. Then I’m having lunch with the animal shelter trustees.” She scrolled her phone’s screen. “Haircut at 3. Home for dinner.”
“Greek chicken sound good?” Sylvia turned off the oven timer.
Allison shook her head. “No. Since I don’t have to go out, I think I’ll have my favorite dish tonight.”
Pulling the pan of rolls from the oven, Sylvia sighed. “Beans and cornbread?”
“Sure enough. Just leave the beans simmering on the back burner. You don’t need to wait for me.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sylvia’s tone conveyed her disapproval of her employer’s menu. Allison couldn’t help smiling when Sylvia muttered—just loudly enough to be heard—“you can take the girl out of the country…”
As she drove to the Corner Coffee Shop, Allison considered what Brice Tomlinson was up to. She knew only what she’d heard about him and observed at HOA meetings—good-looking, fiftyish, distinguished professor of economics at the State University, sophisticated, polished speaker, self-assured. He probably had a cause he wanted her to support by serving on an advisory board, doing public appearances, or making a substantial financial donation. If he presented a persuasive case, she was prepared to contribute money. However, her time was too precious to continue sharing. When a heart attack claimed her husband’s life four years ago, Allison threw herself into charitable work to ease the pain. Now, she wanted to pare down her commitments. Her plans included showering her love on some grandchildren. First, her daughter needed to settle down and get married.
“Mrs. Holloway! How nice of you to meet with me. And on such short notice.” Tomlinson stood to greet her. “I know your time is valuable.”
Allison nodded. “My pleasure.” She’d heard this over-polite opener too many times to put any stock in her companion’s words.
Tomlinson pressed his lips together for a moment. “What can I get you to drink?”
“Mocha latte, skinny, thank you.” Perhaps this man was not as urbane as she thought. She sensed he was somewhat on edge.
“What is so important we can’t discuss it on the phone?” she asked as soon as he returned with two cups.
“Angela,” he said, locking his eyes on hers.
Feeling weak, frightened, and angry all at once, Allison repeated, “Angela? Is she all right? Has something happened?”
He raised his palms outward, “Your daughter’s fine. I–”
“How do you know her name?” Allison could hear the coldness in her voice. She went to great lengths to keep her daughter out of the spotlight. “What do you want from me?”
“Please, Mrs. Holloway, calm down.” Tomlinson reached for Allison’s hand, but she snatched it away. “I assume you know your daughter is dating my son, Brandon.”
“Dating? What do you mean, ‘dating’?” She tried to sort out her thoughts enough to remember if Angela had ever talked about Brandon. No recollection.
“It’s an American social custom,” he answered, with the merest trace of a smile. “A young man invites a young woman–”
“I know the definition of the word,” she snapped. “Angela hasn’t mentioned anyone special. Bring me up to date, Mr. Tomlinson.” She sipped at her latte to calm her anxiety.
“Please call me Brice.” He hunched forward, both hands on his coffee cup. “Brandon is a graduate student at State, like Angela. I don’t know how they met exactly, but they’ve been seeing each other for a couple of months.” He rolled his hands back and forth around his cup. “Up to now, I’ve tried not to meddle in my children’s lives. However, I’ve decided to change that approach, beginning now, with Brandon.” After taking a deep breath, he continued, “Mrs. Holloway, this may sound crazy, but I have a plan and I need your help to carry it out.”
“If I’m going to call you Brice, then you should address me as Allison.” She kept her eyes on him while she took a long drink. “I don’t know whether I’ll join your conspiracy or not until I hear more about it.” Putting her cup aside, she said, “I’m all ears.”
To be continued...
-by Carlene Havel