"Rise and shine dear! Open your eyes to this beautiful new day!"
Lena opens her eyes groggily to see Madame Cordelia bustling about her room and throwing open the thick curtains. She curls into a slight ball and yawns, "What time is it?"
Madame Cordelia points to the clock over the mantel, "It's nearly seven! You had better get your pretty head up and get dressed so we can enjoy breakfast before the store opens!"
Lena groans and pulls back the wonderfully heavy blankets and sets her feet on the wood floor. She shrieks, "It's freezing in here! Are mornings always like this?"
Madame smiles and nods, "Well, what do you expect from a drafty old upstairs room in London?"
Lena yawns again and agrees, "You're right. Well, I'm off to the bathroom. What time shall I be down for breakfast?"
Madame Cordelia pats her cheek and smiles, "You go and get ready. Breakfast should be done about the same time that you are." With that, she bustles out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen. Lena attempts to put her feet back on the floor and stands up. She heads into the bathroom to begin her morning ritual.
An hour later, Lena walks out of the bathroom ready to start her new job. She has decided to wear the outfit that she wore her first day in London, the gray and purple skirt and the gray peasant blouse. The sides of her hair were fastened securely in the back, leaving the rest loose and wavy. When she reaches the kitchen, Madame Cordelia was setting the table with coffee, toast, scrambled eggs and jam. She gives Lena a big smile and pours her a cup of coffee. "Do you need any help, Madame Cordelia?"
Madame waves her hand at Lena, "No, no Anna. It's already done. You sit down and enjoy your meal."
Lena sits and takes a slice of toast and smothers it with raspberry jam. Madame Cordelia takes the seat across from Lena and pours herself a cup of coffee. Lena looks to the floor and sees Jezebel munching on her cat food. Madame Cordelia takes a bite of her eggs and looks to Lena, "Anna, that young man you were with last night was absolutely charming! How did you meet him?"
Lena swallows her toast, "Well, I actually just met him a few days ago, the day I arrived in London. He's really wonderful. He's kind, sensitive, and immensely talented. His songs take my breath away."
Madame Cordelia chuckles, "Remember what all mothers say to their daughters, Anna. You know, about musicians?"
Lena shrugs, "You mean the whole 'never marry a musician' spiel? Madame, we are hardly going to get married! We just met a few days ago!"
Madame Cordelia sips her tea daintily, "Has any of his songs been published, luv?"
Lena almost cried out at the top of her lungs at that point. However she managed to contain herself, "Actually Madame, quite a few of them have. He and his band are popular all over the world. They have won awards and have made two movies. I can't believe you have never heard of them before!"
Madame bites her bottom lip and looks at Lena as though she is trying her hardest to recollect something. "What did you say the band's name was again?"
Lena sighs and pushes back a stray hair, "They are The Beatles. You know John, Paul, George and Ringo? Yeah, Yeah, Yeah?" She holds her breath in anticipation as Madame Cordelia looks deep in thought and finally sighs, "I'm sorry, Anna. I've never heard of them. I don't listen to the radio much, nor the telly. Maybe they can all come over sometime for dinner."
Lena shrugs and then smiles, "I'm sure they'd like that, Madame. Actually two of my friends are coming over to tea with us this afternoon."
Madame Cordelia looks hopeful for a minute, "More suitors? Perhaps that handsome young man from last night?"
Lena shakes her head, "No, no suitors. Their names are Pattie and Maureen. I'm sure that you will like them both. However, I do think that you will see Paul again very soon." Lena stands and helps Madame clear the table and do the dishes, Jezebel just lies curled up next to Lena's feet. After the dishes are dried and stacked away carefully, Madame leads Lena down to the shop. Before they open, Lena browses the racks more carefully.
She finds gossamer dresses, flowing skirts, blouses, and coats in every beautiful shade and fabric. At the jewelry counter, Lena sees large garnet and moonstone necklaces, silver bracelets and rings. If Lena were to explain the store, she would say that it was like a fairy godmother had exploded all over it. Madame Cordelia flips the sign in the window to "Open" and then hobbles over to Lena's side and begins to explain the various procedures.
Before she knows it, time passes quickly in the store for Lena. It was now nearly three in the afternoon and Lena was as happy as can be. Madame Cordelia is absolutely wonderful to her. Sure she might come off as a little odd, but Lena has always remembered not to judge people until you get to know them.
As Lena folds a few scarves by the window, she hears a knocking. She turns around to see Pattie and Maureen with their noses pressed up against the glass, smiling maniacally at her. Lena laughs and runs to the door to let them in, "Come in you two! I am so glad that you both are here!" Maureen gives Lena a hug, while Pattie just smiles.
Maureen pulls away and looks around the room excitedly, "This place is fab! Do you suppose we could look around a bit?" Lena shrugs, "Sure! Go ahead. I'll go find Madame Cordelia, she seems real excited to meet you."
Pattie and Maureen, the "professionals," set out about the store while Lena went into the storeroom to find Madame. "Madame Cordelia? Are you back here?" She then hears a bustling and the unmistakable sound of a box falling, "Madame? Are you okay? Do you need me to help?" Lena rushes in to find the source of the racket. She then sees Madame Cordelia standing on a tall stool, rummaging through a box on a top shelf. "Madame Cordelia, I was worried! What fell?"
Madame Cordelia turns to Lena, "Anna dear, would you be as kind to hand me that box that fell? I was trying to find a blouse that has been in this storeroom for months. I thought that it would look beautiful on you. It's green with little spangles at the hem." Lena picks up the box (which is rather heavy) and hands it back up to Madame Cordelia. She takes off the lid and sifts through its content for a moment before letting out a sigh of relief, "Oh good. Here the damned thing is." She waves the green material at Lena and steps carefully down off the stool.
Madame Cordelia holds the blouse up to Lena, "I think this will do nicely. All the lads won't be able to take their eyes off you."
Lena blushes and takes the blouse from the older woman, "Thanks, Madame. Listen, my friends are here for tea. They are looking through the store right now, but they are really anxious to meet you."
Madame Cordelia pats Lena's forearm, "Well luv, let's not keep the ladies waiting." Lena folds up the blouse and tucks it under her arm and they walk out of the storeroom.
When they reach the counter, Pattie and Maureen are flipping through the racks of clothes. Lena clears her throat, "Um, Pattie and Maureen, this is Madame Cordelia Alexander St. Lorraine. She owns the store."
Pattie and Maureen step away from the rack and up to Lena excitedly. Madame Cordelia turns the corner and greets them with her arms extended wide, "Hello, dears! I am so pleased to meet you. Anna has said so much about you!" She pats Maureen and Pattie's cheeks gingerly. The two girls smile and exchange glances with Lena.
Madame Cordelia walks to the sign and flips it to "closed." She takes Pattie and Maureen by their arms and leads them to the parlor, where the tea service was waiting. Lena follows and stops by the kitchen to get the cucumber sandwiches and the strawberry jam tarts Madame had made earlier that morning. In the parlor, she can hear Madame Cordelia quizzing the girls about their lives and husbands. Lena grabs the two trays and waltzes steadily into the next room. As she sets the trays down, Madame pats her hand, "Yes, my goal is to find Anna the finest young man available and have her married soon."
Lena nearly falls over with shock and grimaces. Pattie giggles and takes a sandwich, "Well, Lena. Have you found him yet?"
Lena takes a sip of tea and shakes her head, "No. I'm sorry, but I haven't and I don't really think I am ready for that kind of situation yet."
Madame Cordelia looks at Lena in disbelief, "Anna, what about that lovely young man from last night? He seemed quite taken with you!"
Maureen takes a bite of her sandwich, "What young man is this?"
Lena waves her hand in denial, "Oh, no she's…" Before she could finish Madame Cordelia breaks in, "Oh, it was this handsome lad named Paul, he's from Liverpool and accompanied Anna home last night. He claims to be a songwriter, but I told him to find a respectable job."
Lena covers her forehead with her hands to protect herself from Pattie's knowing gaze. "Paul? Our Paul?" Pattie gleefully jabs Maureen in the ribcage. Maureen looks quite sympathetic to Lena as she avoids Pattie's celebration. Lena is ashamed. First of all, she can't control her feelings and allows herself to get romantically entangled with Paul when she knows that it could never, ever work out. Now, she has to endure the torture of Pattie Harrison and her I-told-you-so victory grin. Why did Madame have to bring up Lena's personal life to these two? Now she will never live it down.
Lena downs her tea and thrusts the empty cup towards Madame Cordelia, "Here Madame. Read my tea leaves."
Madame Cordelia smiles, "Certainly dear, I would love to." She takes her glasses from the chain around her neck and peers into the cup. She laughs boisterously, "Ah-ha! You will have the urge to tell the man in your life something very important. It has to do with where you come from." Lena swallows hard. Maybe there was something to those old wives tales and predictions? She looks to Pattie and Maureen, who have suddenly turned rather serious.
Pattie takes the last sip of her tea and passes the cup to Madame Cordelia. Madame's eyes scan over the bottom of Pattie's cup, "Ooh, someday you will have to make a very important decision between two people who both love you." Lena nearly chokes on the sandwich she has just begun to eat. Pattie's prediction was very creepy, and very true. Madame Cordelia wasn't crazy after all. She was legitimate.
Madame Cordelia extends her hand to take Maureen's cup. Maureen glances down to the cup she cradles in her hands. She looks back to Madame and shakes her head, "I'm sorry. But I don't think I want to know. It might sound a little crazy, but I want to be surprised. Even if it may be bad."
Madame Cordelia nods solemnly to Maureen, "It's all right dear, you must always trust your instincts."
Maureen helps Lena clear the dishes and walk them into the kitchen. They stand at the counter silently, wrapping up food and clearing plates when Maureen turns to Lena, "It's all right you know, if you like him. Don't let Pattie get on your wick. I hope that you and Paul get together."
Lena sighs and places the leftover tarts and sandwiches in the icebox, "Maureen, I wish it were that easy. I want to be with him, but I can't. It'll never work. We come from different places. I am not the one he's looking for."
Maureen looks confused, "You don't know that. You can't possibly know that. So why don't you give him a chance?"
Lena shrugs and bites her bottom lip, "I would, but he has Jane and I can't stay here forever. I know that he's confused about her, but I can't mess up his life even more. I feel like a seesaw. Two nights ago we were fine, then I made him mad, then last night we made up and I was so happy. But today, oh, I don't know. I know that it won't last and I need to find a way back home. But that's my head talking, not my heart."
Lena looks sadly at Maureen, who takes her hand, "And what does your heart say, luv?"
Lena fights back tears and avoids Maureen's concerned expression, "My heart says to stick it out. I want to stay here forever. I want to be with Paul. But I am afraid to break his heart or even break my own. I wish things had been different. That I wouldn't have known…" Lena stops herself short of giving her away any of her secrets. "I wish I would have known my own feelings earlier, it would have saved both of us a lot of strife. But even now, I am unsure."
They finish cleaning up and join Pattie and Madame Cordelia downstairs. Pattie is waiting with her coat on by the door for Maureen to arrive. Maureen puts on her coat and gives Lena a hug and whispers in her ear, "Listen to your heart." Lena smiles and nods slightly.
Madame Cordelia grins broadly, "Thank you
girls for coming to tea, I truly enjoyed it. You must
come back to visit Anna soon. Next time bring your
husbands. I am dying to meet them!" Pattie and
Maureen smile and walk to the door. Lena waves to
them and flips the sign back to "open." It was four
thirty and that meant only another hour and a half
until she could go upstairs to the comfortable old
room and be alone.
Written by Cinder Whittier. May not be reproduced in any form, by any means, without the permission of the author. Permission may be obtained by e-mail.
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