The Memory of Us(9)

by Camille Di Maio

“Right.”

“So, there you go. Now, what about jewelry?”

We raced each other across the house to Mother’s wing, where we had been given permission to raid her vast collection and choose something to borrow.

The dressing room sat adjacent to her bedroom. If my parents had ever shared a bedroom, I wasn’t aware of it. The décor of Father’s rooms had a tastefully neutral palette, accentuated with massive mahogany furniture pieces and punches of navy blue. In contrast, Mother’s rooms were delicate and feminine. Her dressing area looked like something out of a Hollywood movie, and was probably large enough to serve as a soundstage. Shades of pastels and various textures were used to create more interest. Ivory feather pillows lined a rosy velveteen settee. A creamy plush rug covered most of the floor. Ribbons of crystal dangled from the lamps. Any starlet would have been envious.

As a child, I was mesmerized by the myriad of prism-like bottles with oils imported from Egypt. They were lined up on her vanity, and in the afternoon the sun would hit them, casting half-moon rainbows on the carpet. When the mood struck her, Mother would draw out the lids one by one and let me inhale their foreign scents. Lotus. Jasmine. Hibiscus.

We opened her cherry wardrobe and found the jewelry cabinet just where we expected to, but discovered something else we didn’t. Two bags, lined with the most exquisite lace, and trimmed with turquoise satin ribbons. Lying beside them was an envelope that read, “Julianne and Lucille.” We looked at each other in awe, grabbed the bags, and plopped ourselves onto the floor.

Lucille reminded me to use my manners and read the card first. I released my grip on my bag and listened as she read.

“‘Girls—I’d like to express my gratitude for all of your help.’”

“The card is read—let’s open them!” Impatient as I was, I paused at the sight of Lucille sitting with her hands in her lap, one finger tracing the edge of the gift bag. Of course this would be more meaningful for her than it was for me. Lucille had lost her mother when she was just three years old, and any memories of receiving gifts had long since vanished. My own mother might not be a warm batch of scones and honey, but she was here, and nothing if not generous.

Lucille smiled at the bag, savoring every bit of this surprise, then looked up at me. “Gosh, Jul, your mother didn’t have to do this. I didn’t really do that much. And Saturday night is your night.”

“Luce,” I said, taking her hand, “you know that we could not have done this without your help. And Saturday night is our night. Mother wants it to be special for both of us.”

She beamed at me and flashed an eager grin. “Let’s open them!”

I let her go first. Gently, she pulled the black velvet box from the wrapping and opened it. She gasped, and put her hand to her chest. Inside was a gray pearl necklace with a garnet pendant framed by tiny diamonds. Garnet earrings and a gray pearl bracelet finished off the set. They were going to look stunning on her. Mother must have chosen the set for Lucille because garnet was her birthstone.

“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in all my life! I can’t believe that they’re mine! Oh, Jul!” She threw her arms around me—as if I’d had anything to do with it—then wiped away a joyful tear and said, “Open yours!”

In design, mine was nearly the twin of hers. My pearls were white, and my stone was emerald. Not only the May birthstone, but my signature color. We tried on our dresses with full accessories—hats, gloves, jewelry, and all—and spent an hour twirling in front of the three-paneled mirror. We would have fallen asleep in an exuberant pile, save for the fear of wrinkling our gowns and the need to pin my hair.

I washed up while Lucille changed out of her clothes, and then we switched.

With my hair dry, we began to position the wave curlers and hairgrips. I grimaced at the ones that she did—always very tight on my scalp—but I knew from experience that they came out the best. Lucille didn’t have to go through this torture. She was blessed with natural curls, long and dark, but as we are always unsatisfied with what we are given, she planned to iron hers out tomorrow.

No one spoke at first as our skillful fingers wrapped and twisted. We were exhausted after such a full day.

Lucille broke the silence. “Jul?”

“Yes?”

“I’m glad to have my friend back.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that you’ve been moping about like something out of a Boris Karloff flick. I wasn’t kidding when I called you Grumpy. But I think you’re earning your way back up to happy now.”

I was sorry that my melancholy had alienated her. Did anyone notice it besides Lucille? She knew me better than most and deserved to know the truth. Reluctantly I let her in on the whole story. She listened with rapt attention, her jaw dropping at all the appropriate times.

“A priest, Julianne? A priest? Oh, leave it to you—the one man that you finally fancy, you can’t have!” Finding the irony amusing, she stifled a giggle at the whole impossible thing.

“Oh, let it out, Lucille! You know you want to laugh. But he’s not a priest. Not yet, anyway. He still has six more years at the seminary.” I said it as much to convince myself as her.

But there was no fooling her. “Jul, you know how King Edward abdicated to run off with that Wallis Simpson?”

“Of course. Who will ever forget?”

“What did we think of her?”

“That she was a lowlife bugger.”

“Exactly. And why was that?”

“Well . . .” I hesitated. I didn’t want to admit to what she was suggesting.

Lucille completed my sentence. “Because she brought scandal to the monarchy.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And you don’t see the similarity?”

“You’re not comparing me to an American divorcée, are you?”

“Of course not. Not entirely. You’re a far better person than she was.” She patted my hand. “But it’s kind of the same thing. Isn’t Kyle promised to God or something like that, even if he hasn’t taken his vows yet? Isn’t he supposed to belong to the people of the church, just like the king was supposed to belong to us?”

I was at a loss to disagree with her, but held out one desperate hope. “Well, with all the problems in the world, surely God wouldn’t notice one stray seminarian leaving the fold.”