She rolled her eyes at me. “And this is the theological brilliance of whom? The girl who goes to church, say, twice a year? When there’s a good excuse to buy a new Christmas or Easter dress?”
“Why do you have to do that?” I sighed.
“Be right!” I tried to act indignant, but could manage only an anemic huff as I threw a pillow at her. “I think we won in the end, though. King George is a doll, even if he does stutter, and it’s quite fun to see the pictures of the princesses all dressed up.”
“See, Jul? You’ll win, too, if you just do what you should.” She walked over to my four-poster bed, and I helped her pull back the enormous down blankets.
I admitted defeat. She was spot-on. It was pointless to wrap myself in knots over something so futile. I’d be heading to London soon, anyway. Full speed ahead.
I switched off the lamp and fluffed my pillow. I laid my slippers next to my bed, straightening them until they were lined up just so. I peeked at Lucille lying next to me, and her eyelids were already drooping. When she spoke it was with the low drawl of someone lingering between consciousness and the dream state, not that it dulled her witty tongue.
“Why Jul, what is that in your hair? Holy rollers!”
“Hardy har har. Good night, Lucille.”
“Jul, do you think we’ll have a mass amount of people at the festival tomorrow?”
I ignored her.
“Jul, do you think your father will pope his head in here if we’re too loud?”
“Oh, that one was terrible.”
“You’re right. I just couldn’t help myself. Sweet dreams.”
We were quiet for ten minutes, and I thought she was asleep.
“You’re not incensed with me, are you?”
“Good night, Lucille!”
Smiling as I closed my eyes, I sank into a refreshing calm, the kind that occurs when your mind is finally liberated from something troubling. I had no way of knowing that my afflictions would return stronger than ever by this time tomorrow.
The weather was cooperating so far. Some rain clouds idled in the distance, but they didn’t seem as if they would do anything more than threaten us. It was always a gamble to hold a festival outdoors, but if the sunshine prevailed, it was well worth it. The fresh air augmented charitable sentiments, and the grounds of the botanic gardens provided a stunning backdrop.
We remained home as long as possible before I had to take the curlers out, and Lucille spent the time reviewing last-minute details. She should have been the one inheriting my father’s business.
When we could stay no longer, we took down my hair, ironed out Lucille’s, and packed our gowns for the evening. The mislaid priorities of the earlier summer months needed to remain squarely behind me, according to Lucille’s decisive counsel. I had to free myself from the preoccupation with Kyle McCarthy. The auction would be the perfect distraction.
Although Mother retained a chauffeur, Father and I shared an affinity for driving, and he let me have his new Bentley for the day. In its polished black exterior, we took a final look at our reflections. We drove the four miles to the grounds, whizzing by lesser automobiles and horse-drawn carriages whose owners defied progress. I hoped to park away from anything that could scratch the car, but people were already crowding into the limited spaces. I maneuvered it, finally, between a tangle of bicycles and a tree overrun with birds. I gave the birds a menacing stare, warning them against leaving any deposits, then took Lucille’s arm.
We stopped first at the bake sale, where she priced the items and I sampled them before leaving things in her capable hands and going to check on the other tables.
The dunking booth was overflowing with water, and I called for a stack of towels to be placed behind it. Reverend Parker was the first to volunteer, and I wanted to make sure that he was well cared for when he got drenched. No doubt the booth would be the busiest when he provoked the crowd from the hinged seat.
The bread contest table had twelve of the entries in place already, including Alice’s lemon poppy seed. It was iced with a sugary coating, and I knew from one look at the competitors that I would be pinning the ribbon on her yet again.
Tin cans were stacked in pyramids waiting to be pummeled, and lights were strung between lampposts. The band was rehearsing in a pavilion. All seemed to be in wonderful order. I reclaimed Lucille, and we set out to report to Mother. We found her talking with Mrs. Denton, and nearly knocked her over with our embrace as we thanked her for the jewelry.
“Now now, there’s no need for that,” she said, her arms stiffening at the contact. “Your help was invaluable.” She slipped out of our hold and shooed us off. “Everything is under control. Go enjoy the festivities. I’ll see you at the auction.”
We set off to visit a caricature artist but didn’t get far before hearing our names.
Turning, we saw Lotte and Blythe waving us down. I hadn’t seen much of them since leaving upper school, which, in Lotte’s case, was a welcome interlude. Blythe was a jewel, though, and it was one of the world’s great mysteries that they were friends.
“Everything looks aces, Julianne,” said Lotte between breaths. “Really, you did a first-class job. Of course, I visited a carnival in Manchester once, where they had fire-eaters and unicyclists. And there was that fund-raiser for the university where they actually built an ice rink. In the summer, no less! But don’t you worry. I’m sure you did the best you could.”
Lucille grabbed my hand and squeezed it, lest I say anything I might regret.
“Where are you going first? May we join you?” Blythe chimed in, but Lotte charged on with the real reason that she had come over.
“Now, I have some news that’ll really blow your wig!” She grabbed my arms, and I felt her nails press against my skin.
“John Parker proposed to Maude and she accepted!” Her hands flew in the air as she anticipated a response that would confirm her as queen of the tittle-tattle.
Although this was indeed news, I knew Lotte far too well to take the bait. I simply turned to Lucille, and she shook her head.
“Are you sure?” I asked Lotte.
“Of course, I’m sure,” she said. “I just heard it from Maude’s sister herself. We all saw it coming, but it’s so exciting now that it’s finally happened!” Lotte could have powered the strung lights with her enthusiasm. “Of course, how Maude could be content being a minister’s wife, I don’t know, but there are some things that defy all common sense. And it’s not as if he even has a position yet—he’s still a student, for mercy’s sake. Still, one can’t help but be bolstered by love in the air.” She twirled her finger toward the sky.