Here, all. Apologies for the delay in posting. I am in the grip of a crippling writer's block, and every word is agonizing to write and to read. Hence the lack of proof-reading. 19,829/50,000.
Alys Winter was all that the real-estate agent had promised when he guaranteed an exclusive clientele. She was certainly wealthy, as evidenced by her ability to support herself in comfort and style while devoting herself to art. Though she dabbled in many different styles and media, her forte was designing jewelry. She was usually seen wearing some elegant piece that she had created, but jeweled or not, she was a delight to behold: young, vivacious, intelligent, gracious, and with that gift, so rare in a beautiful woman, of being praised by women as well as by men.
She had been raised, along with her brother, by her uncle, Dr. Carson Winter, an ethicist of such renown that he and his books were frequently featured in the most prestigious talk shows and glossy periodicals. Whatever one might say about Dr. Winter’s consequentialist theories (and plenty of ink had been spilled, pro et contra), he could not be accused of failing to live as he taught. This made him fascinating as a dinner guest but unpleasant as a relative, with the result that Alys, looking for a post-collegiate artist’s retreat, sought out the greatest change possible from his enclave on the Upper West Side. What could be more of a contrast from Riverside Drive than a cottage on River Road in rural Louisiana? And who could desire to slog around icy New York City in February when the balmy South held the promise of mild sunny afternoons and breezy afternoons and spring dresses?
With Alys came her older brother Ian, a fellow possessed of as much wealth, charm, and leisure as herself. Ian had little quarrel with his uncle, but he too felt the pressing need to escape from the pressures of New York, and its women. He was an independent filmmaker of some renown in artsy circles — Malcolm recalled having read a review of one of his films: “ambitious… compelling and compelling emotional landscapes… unsettling in its ambiguity… two thumbs up” — but was at present between projects and more than willing to indulge in the beauties of the South in company with his favorite, and only, sister.
The arrival of the Winters had the effect of an invigorating wind at Stillwater. Esther had not expected a second occupant of the cottage, but on consideration found the situation unobjectionable enough; Miss Winter was paying good money, and the cottage was certainly big enough for the pair of them. And perhaps if they felt welcome enough at Stillwater, they’d sign on for another six month lease.
Dick’s disgrace had weighed heavily on everyone but himself, but he was aware enough to feel the adverse effects of his confinement at home, and was more than willing to welcome the close company of a attractive woman and an entertaining man. He was the first of the Stillwater family (other than Esther) to venture over and make the acquaintance of the newcomers, and he brought back a favorable report. Dick had an easy, “hail-fellow-well-met” social manner and could make himself agreeable to almost anyone when he made an effort — he’d charmed funding from several venture capital groups that way — and it seemed that the Winters also possessed amiability in a unusual degree. The meeting of North and South had been congenial. Ian had worked with a few of Dick’s favorite cult filmmakers and was currently slumming, directing videos for humor sites (“He knows the Lonely Island guys!”). He’d spoken highly of Stillwater and asked if any movies had ever been shot here. Alys had only good things to say about the cottage and thought she’d be able to get much work done; she’d already sketched out several new pieces. She’d expressed eagerness to take the tour and enjoy the beauties of the house. Dick had been impressed with her wit and erudition.
“And she’s hot, too,” he told Malcolm, who was reading to Melly in the family room as she beaded Sophia’s wedding dress. “Hot and smart. Take it from me.”
“Oh, I certainly consider you a stellar judge of all feminine qualities.”
“She had the funniest story about her uncle and this TA he was hitting on, and but the TA told the uncle that mixing business and sex was inappropriate, and the the uncle later goes to this club and sees the TA pole-dancing and wouldn’t leave a tip because of the TA’s opinions on mixing business and sex.”
“A bit hard on the poor girl.”
“It was a dude.”
“And that was entirely too much information for a first meeting,” said Malcolm, raising an eyebrow at Melly, “or maybe any meeting. I hope you don’t have any plans to regale the Winters with salacious tales about Dad.”
“Of course I won’t, because there aren’t any.”
“Of course you won’t, because he’s your father.”
“I think you’ll really like this girl. Right up your alley, bro. It’s time for you to start checking out the ladies.”
“I’ll take that under advisement.”
“Always looking out for you, man.”
The Saturday after the Winters arrived, Stillwater was a hive of activity. Hordes of ladies, Cheryl’s acquaintances or relatives, were descending upon the house for a bridal shower for Sophia. This affair was a true ladies’ luncheon: the table was set with the best china and crystal, the pressed linen napkins had been arranged in elegant folds, and complex floral arrangements graced every table. Esther was in the kitchen, counting out the silver spoons herself for the place settings as the caterers edged around them, when Dick sidled in.
“Dick, you leave that alone!”
Dick, who had swiped a big dollop of some confection involving Cool Whip, cottage cheese, strawberry jello, and pineapple, licked off his finger.
“What?” he protested. “The red stuff is the only thing in here worth eating. Unless you give me about six of those sandwiches.”
“These sandwiches,” said Esther, handing the dish to a caterer to be carried out to the sideboard, “are for your mother’s friends, and I’ve only allowed for two apiece.”
“How many showers does this make, anyway? This is, what, the third one you’ve hosted so far?”
“I have not hosted any showers,” said Esther primly. “Relatives of the bride do not host showers. That would look like a crass appeal for gifts. This shower is being hosted by your mother’s friend Sandra.”
Dick scrolled through his mother’s acquaintance, such as he knew. “Sandra? The one who’s been in chemo?”
“Yes, she’s been so sick lately that we thought it would be a nice touch to put her down as hostess — cheer her up a little, you know.”
Dick shrugged off the vagaries of etiquette. “Hey, is this deal going to run much later than 6:00?”
“No, it shouldn’t. It’s a luncheon, not a tea. Why do you ask?”
Dick was already heading out the kitchen. “Because I invited the Winters to dinner tonight.”
“Dick Spencer, I swear…” But Dick was out of earshot, and wouldn’t have been bothered by Esther’s oaths even if he’d heard them.