Andi and Allie - 29

Andi and Allie – Chapter 29

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright…”

29-1a IMG_2434.jpg“Let me show you into the board room.”

Meg was a spry older woman of forty or forty five. Maybe more… She held herself and walked with the confidence that only years of treading the corporate environment could produce. She was Martha Gray’s administrative assistant but acted as confidently as any senior vice president.

She appeared to be totally business and yet I could feel the warmth of the person hiding beneath the façade. Meg wore a white top with a lovely pink sweater and a grey skirt. Her black leather penny loafers looked well used but quite shined. Meg wore little makeup; just mascara and lipstick. Her wonderful pale green eyes sparkled with intelligence…and mirth?

29-2a creative-business-meeting-rooms-cool-home-design-lovely-to-business-meeting-rooms-architecture.jpgMeg opened the two oak doors.

We were met by an amazing view of lower Manhattan and the bay. A great long table with ten leather high backed wing chairs on both sides and one even larger one at the far end occupied the center of the room. Meg seated us about half way down on one side.

“The suits will be sitting opposite you folks.” Suits…??? “May I bring you some coffee and perhaps a pastry?”

“Ummm…”

“Oh yes please…” Allie was very quick. “Let me help you. I know how Andi likes her coffee.”

Meg’s eye brows arched and she had a bemused expression on her face.

“How about you Mister McCann…? Can I get you something?” Allie smiled at him.

“Please… Black… No sugar…” Mister McCann smiled and took out the folder from his brief case.

I watched as Allie and Meg disappeared through a door at the other end of the conference room. I felt more than a wee bit out of place with Allie gone and Mister McCann reviewing his file. As I fidgeted with my shoulder bag strap, the double doors swung opened and the ‘suits’ walked in.

Now I understood what Meg meant. They all pretty much appeared to look the same; very well dressed in tailored dark blue or Gray pin striped suits with starched white shirts and power ties of different designs and colors. They were one step beyond being well groomed. All were polished to a quite high gloss.

They simply nodded at me and Mister McCann and took seats on the opposite side of the table. I faintly smiled back and gazed toward the head of the table and the empty chair with the amazing vista beyond. I don’t think Mister McCann even bothered to look up and acknowledge them. He simply placed his huge hand atop mine and patted it gently.

Just as I verged on praying to all the holy spirits I’d ever heard of for the return of my Allie, she walked in with Meg. They were speaking with one another as if they’d known each other for years. Allie was giggling away and Meg laughed as she related some bit of information.

“Ahhh…” Meg laughed and smiled wryly. “I see the suits have arrived. Good morning ladies and gents. You all know where the coffee is.”

Meg sure wasn’t one who seemed to filter much. She sat on our side cattycorner from the head of the table. I took that for a good omen. My Allie placed a mug of coffee in front of Mister McCann who gazed up at her with a smile. She then put one in front of me and sat down. All that remained was for the main event to begin.

The door nearest Meg opened and Martha Gray made her entrance. She was followed by a very large man in a suit that seemed even more out of place on him than the one on Mister McCann. Indeed he was one of the biggest stoutest men I’d ever seen. His hairless head shone and his mustache and goatee made him appear even more ominous.

I instinctively got up out of my seat and watched this older woman gracefully take the few steps to the tall chair at the very end of the table. The big man pulled it out and she sat. Her eyes never left some document she was reading. As I sat I noticed that everyone else got up as well.

The big man seemed to know Mister McCann. He smiled briefly and nodded. He began to walk toward Mister McCann who got up and met him half way. They shook hands and seemed to exchange a few words as Mister McCann handed him a folder. The big guy opened the folder, my life in a nutshell, and he began to look through each page carefully.

I glanced at Martha Gray and smiled diffidently. Then I cast my gaze down at my hands folded upon my lap. I knew I’d just turned a deep shade of prickly pear red. I felt…embarrassed…out of place…and slightly overwhelmed? But who wouldn’t.

Mister McCann sat back down next to me. I glanced up quickly to see the bald man nod his head at Martha Gray; I couldn’t call her…’auntie’…yet? She must have seen him out of the corner of her eyes which were now directed at me. There was a sort of slight smile partially parted lips. Mister McCann gently patted my hand again.

29-3a 4992455554_9256c36d75_b.jpg“What is it you want?”

I barely heard the man in the suit speak. I barely heard Allie answer.

29-4aa IMG_2436.jpg“We want nothing.”

“We have more than we need.”

One of the other men began to speak but I caught Martha Gray make a slight waving motion with her hand as I glanced up; my head still bowed.

“But Ms. Gray…”

She waved her hand once more.

29-4b IMG_2322.jpg“Thank you all for being here.”

She said in a throaty rich deep voice.

The three suited men and one woman gathered their papers and arose from their seats. They walked toward the big double doors. Mister McCann got up and he exited behind them followed by the really big man. Meg began to get up.

“No… You stay Meg.”

Martha Gray never lost that expression of…wonder…as she removed her glasses and set them aside. Without ever changing her expression she got up from her chair and slowly walked down toward me. She was dressed rather simply in a beige cotton skirt and a white silk buttoned blouse that had the two top buttons undone. On her feet were simple black flats.

The only jewelry she wore were simple Tahitian pearl studs in her ear lobes, a gold double necklace chain holding a cameo, and a simple gold band on the third finger of her left hand. Everything about her screamed wealth and station but nothing about her appearance was over done or...pretentious? Even the very ordinary looking watch on her wrist had a very ordinary stainless steel band.

Martha pulled the chair out next to me and sat. She ran the fingers of one hand over the pearls of her necklace; the only sign of perhaps nervousness? Then she reached out with her other had and lifted my chin up with her finger.

“You have your father’s nose and our eyes.” Her voice was so throaty but yet soothing. “And what is that around your neck?” Martha reached down and grasped my good luck…charm? “Wherever did you get this?” She sounded quite surprised.

“My…”

I had to clear my throat and take a sip of coffee. My throat was so dry.

“My mother gave that to me. She said the etching in the glass was of my grandmother?”

“Is that so?” Martha chuckled. “Well dear… Do have another look.”

I glanced at the woman’s profile I’d gazed at so many times before and then up at Martha. She turned her head in profile. The image etched in glass was hers!

“Your father did this as an experiment with etching glass. He didn’t care for the finished work so he never gave it to me. The only reason I even know about this is he made me pose for some time.” Martha chuckled. “Grandmother indeed…”

Martha let my amulet drop and again with her finger turned my face to meet her gaze.

29-5a IMG_2441.jpg“You are quite a beautiful child.”

Martha touched my cheek and smiled affectionately. “And quite talented as well…”

I could almost feel a moment of sadness come over her as her smile dissipated for a flashing moment.

“That’s another gift your father gave to you.”

Martha’s eyes never left mine.

“You know we’ve met once before.” Martha’s gaze shifted toward Allie for a moment…and then back to mine. She gently stroked my hair. “It was some years ago. I don’t think you were more than perhaps eight or nine years old.”

Allie’s ears perked up upon hearing what Martha related. I could see she was trying hard to remember. Martha simply smiled and watched as Allie tried to recall their meeting. Allie smiled sadly and shook her head.

“I’m so sorry. I just can’t recall when that might have been.”

Allie looked so pained. Martha chuckled.

“That’s not surprising. It was a most forgettable Christmas luncheon.”

I was enthralled by Martha’s accent. It was so very…patrician...like Susan's and Peter's?

“I was young, very ambitious, and trying to land another large account. I was invited because they knew of my parents and happened to approach the firm I now own. I’m sorry to tell you that I found them to be quite boring and pretentious.”

“Don’t feel sorry at all.” Allie giggled. “They are very boring and pretentious. In fact we’re not even speaking at this point.”

“Oh…” Martha grinned and leaned in a bit toward Allie. “Do tell...”

“No… You first…” Allie grinned excitedly.

“Well…” Martha sat back in her chair. “I was bored out of my tits and left that horrid salon area. The paintings weren’t very good anyway; nor the conversation. And as I walked into the hallway I spotted the most beautiful child I’d ever seen. She wore a gown dripping with lace and ribbons that exhibited a total lack of style by the procurer.” Her eyes flashed with excitement.

Martha stopped for a moment and gazed at me again and spoke in a hushed voice as if relating some wonderous secret.

“She was sitting on a settee by herself swinging her feet back and forth in boredom. The poor dear was fidgeting with her hands as she stared down at the floor. I took a seat next to her. I feared I had frightened the poor thing because she looked so shocked by my sudden appearance.”

Martha became so very animated as she spoke. Each word was a colored brush stroke in a portrait.

“Oh…! Oh my God…!” Allie nearly jumped out of her chair. Her hands flew to her mouth and her eyes bugged out. “I remember!”

“And do you remember what we spoke about?” Martha smiled wryly.

“Yes… And you were right.”

“So…” Martha’s eyes sparkled with wit. “You remember what I said.”

I loved the way Martha made a statement out of what should have been a question. She was just like Susan. I could understand how they could be close friends.

“You said…”

Allie rolled her eyes upward in thought. Then she smiled her brilliant and radiant smile.

“You said; ‘you can’t help but love your parents but you don’t have to like them.’ I was too young understand that back then. But I sure do now.”

Martha chuckled.

“Of course you do. But I knew even back then that you were…different. You needed to be to survive the kind of upbringing they must have inflicted upon you.” Martha leaned forward again. “Now dear… Do tell... Why the distance…?”

“Well…?” Allie gazed at me warmly and took my hand.

“I see.” Martha chuckled. “So the child is yours and Andi’s.”

Martha sat back and grinned at Allie broadly…almost…proudly? Then she turned to look at me.

“I must say that when Susan informed me of your existence, I was stunned.”

Martha leaned toward me and grasped both my hands in hers. They were warm and soft. She gazed into my eyes and smiled gently.

“You see… I adored your father. And he worshipped me. But he had a quite…” She paused and smiled gently. “…a difficult and very complex relationship with our father. As with most fathers, ours wanted Andrew to follow in his footsteps. But I’m afraid that those shoes were too big and the steps too lengthy for him. He was an artist, you see. And he was quite good…just as you are Andi. But our father didn’t understand this mode of expression within Andrew.”

I nodded sadly. I felt my emotions beginning to well up. I knew exactly how my father must have felt. I was born into a poor situation and faced the fact that my mother was unavailable every day until I left for school in Manhattan. But to be born so well off and not have that support from a parent who was present but unattentive was just as poisonous.

“And…” Sadness overcame Martha as her gentle smile faded. “I’m afraid my dear Andrew had other…issues.”

Martha reached up with her face and stroked my cheek again. She looked me straight in my eyes.

“I caught him in my things when we were young; in our teens. The poor dear was so terribly embarrassed and…ashamed.”

29-6 018-06a IMG_1720.jpgTears began to run down my cheek.

Evidently I inherited something else from my father. I opened my bag and took out several tissues. I carefully blotted my tears. Martha then took both my hands in hers again and she kissed them.

“I didn’t mind what he did although I must admit he had enough of a sense of style to pick one of my favorite pieces. “ Martha chuckled softly. “Indeed… I took him shopping with our mother one day and helped him pick out things he liked. He was quite slim…as you are…and we were comparable in height so there were no…questions from...mommy dearest.” She spat out the last two words.

I felt Allie put her arm around me. It was comforting amidst this unnerving tale of my father’s all too short life. Martha placed both her hands upon my cheeks and leaned in to kiss my fore head. Then she pulled back till our faces were but inches away.

“I never told a soul and I never…outed him.” Martha sat back again. “Indeed we would often play dress up. He was never proficient with cosmetics…as if I was…but I would help him none-the-less. Your father never got, oh how shall I put this…?” Martha gazed off for a moment. “He never got excited when he…dressed. He simply felt more comfortable and, to be perfectly clear, alive.”

I understood. I really understood. I was living what he could not. I got such an eerie feeling. I shivered thinking that I was my father incarnate.

“What happened to him?”

I could barely speak I was so choked up. Martha took a deep breath and leaned in toward me again, taking my hands in hers in the process.

“He began dressing in cheap hotels in the city. And he would go to parties where others who dressed would gather. You see…” Martha said sadly. “He was not beautiful like you. And the times were much different. His drug use began around that time. And if he met someone at one of these…gatherings, he’d take them back to the hotel. He never wanted to expose his studio or home, his inner sanctum, to others.”

“How did he meet my mother?” I simply couldn’t imagine her in his life.

“She never told you about that.” Martha seemed surprised. “Well… I suppose I can understand her feelings. She was a promising young art student who came to New York City to study. She met him at some opening and the rest was…history…as they say? They spent some time together but she left for California.” Martha gazed down at our hands and sighed. "His...habits and demons were too much for her."

“That is so sad.” I didn’t know what else to think.

“Not really dear… You’re here and that is so very important to me. You see, I was the son my father should have had and your father was the daughter he should have had."

Martha paused and gazed off for a moment. Then she turned back to me and smiled warmly.

“Your father would have been very proud of you and not simply for the art you’ve created. He would have been proud of the way you chosen to present yourself…and perhaps even a wee bit…envious?”

“Well…” I sighed. “I’m still kind of coming to terms with…with this.”

Martha gazed at Allie who’d been sitting quietly with her arm around my shoulders.

“You certainly don’t seem to mind.” Martha eyed her carefully.

“Well…” Allie giggled. “I may have encouraged Andi a little?”

“A little…? You’ve held my hand the entire time.” I looked at my sweet muse adoringly. “Allie’s been my guiding light and my inspiration.”

“How lovely… She’s your muse.” Martha chuckled. “I was your father’s muse.” Martha turned to Allie again. “You’re a smart girl. I suppose you’ve helped Andi in many ways.”

Allie gazed at me and smiled. She took hold of my hand again.

“We’ve helped one another since the first day we met. Andi is the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I am treated like…like a queen.” Allie pulled my face toward her and she kissed my cheek.

“Yes…” I loved Martha’s manner of speech. “And well you should be. I imagine you take care of…the details.”

“I do. Sometimes the simplest things get beyond Andi's scope and create worries I'd rather not have her concerned about." Allie's look became serious.

“I did the same for…her father. Andrew was not a businessman and he had no idea of the value of his work. I took care of that detail for him and saw to his needs.” Martha smiled and sighed.

“Andi worries too much about the corporal things in life and our ability to cope. But I’m not without means and the work she does brings in a good sum of money. And there is her job; all of which also affords us a good life together.”

“Yes… I’ve been made quite aware of that. As sisters…so to speak…Susan and I have no secrets from one another.” Martha chuckled. And I understand that you wish to join our little club." Martha smiled slyly.

“Susan and I have become close over the past few months. She’s an absolute dream. Susan feels that I would fit in with the other women. And…” Allie became quite excited. “I’ve enjoyed everyone I’ve met thus far. It would be an honor.”

“Indeed the honor would be ours.” Martha chuckled. “Young women such as you are becoming rarer by the day. Whilst it’s true there are some very successful women out there, so few of them are truly interested in their fellow human beings. Susan tells me you’re quite generous with your assets.”

“I do try to help.” Allie spoke in almost a whisper.

Martha turned to me and she leaned in and hugged me to her. I gave into her and let the warmth of her emotion wash over me and cleanse me of any misgivings I might have had. She began to whisper in my ear as we embraced.

“You don’t know how badly I wanted this day to come. I'd hoped my dear departed brother left me something more of himself. You will be a blessing to us all.” Martha kissed my cheek and placed her head against my face again. “Now that you’ve come into my life I shall never let you go; either one of you.”

29-6 018-06a IMG_1720.jpgI softly began to weep again.

I felt Martha’s tears upon my neck as they fell from her eyes. When she finally let me go, I noticed that Meg was still with us. She too was drying her eyes. Martha turned to her as she blew her nose into a tissue pulled from the pocket of her skirt.

“Do I have anything particularly important or urgent that needs tending to?” Martha sniffled as she spoke.

“No… Nothing at all… I thought you’d want a clear calendar for today.”

“And where is our Marti these days?” Martha asked Meg.

“She’s on her way back to Boston. She’s been tending to our affairs out on the coast.”

“Thank you Meg…” Martha turned to face Allie. “There is a matter of inheritance. My father made me executer and trustee of his entire estate. That included what he wanted my mother to have as well as my brother. That portion belonging to my brother I always kept a separate accounting apart from the main portion of the estate. I could never quite bring myself to consolidate my brother’s portion. I’ve always hoped this day would come.”

“Where is my father buried?”

I felt…odd and out of place in asking but I wanted to know and to perhaps visit his grave site. Martha gazed at me through her reddened eyes. She smiled faintly as she took my hands in hers again.

“It was always your father’s desire to be cremated and to have his ashes spread around a great white oak tree on the family estate.” Martha paused for the longest moment and sighed. “I had a granite stone set by the tree with a plaque indicating the tree to be his final resting place. You may see the site whenever you wish.” Martha sighed. “I visit the tree every time I need go to see my mother.”

“I had my mother cremated. I didn’t know what else to do. It was really Allie’s suggestion.”

“Would you like to spread her ashes around the same tree?” Martha’s offer was honest and sincere. “I do think that would make sense you know.”

“It wouldn’t be a desecration?” I spoke…solemnly.

“Oh dear child…” Somehow I found the way Martha said the words to be comforting? “The dead are dead and I’m fairly sure the tree won’t mind. If you’d like, we could add a plaque to the stone.”

29-6 018-06a IMG_1720.jpg“Yes… I think I’d like that.”

I felt my tears run down my cheeks again as I dabbed at my eyes.

“There… There…” Martha took me around with her arms and comforted me. “I know this is all rather…dramatic and…overwhelming. But this is what you’ve been looking for, isn’t it. And there’s a great deal more to come. But that I shall not burden you with. This will be between your Allie and me.”

Allie sat forward in her chair. She immediately knew what Martha was saying even though it escaped me.

“It’s grown some over the years. I would only disburse what my brother needed and no more. I knew his habits would eat up every cent and I had hoped he would go into treatment. Alas that never happened. But Andi does stand to inherit that money directly. Knowing that you will see to things I have no doubts in releasing those funds into your charge."

I could see the change in Martha’s demeanor. She was all business now and she was placing everything that was mine into Allie’s very capable hands.

“I’ve already combined Andi’s accounts with my own. And anything she wanted or needed was…well…it was not an issue.” Allie smiled at me lovingly.

“That was rather kind of you. Susan is an excellent judge of character. I am actually in your debt for…” Martha gazed at me and smiled. “…for keeping our Andi from the harshness of the world.” She looked at Allie for the longest of moments. “The estate is quite sizable.”

“How much is the estate?”

Allie asked without any emotion. She was all business now as well.

“Well I’ve kept the investments relatively conservative and I believe it’s…” Martha turned to Meg who handed her a folder. She opened the folder. “Yes… It’s roughly two hundred and fifty three million dollars at the moment.”

Both of us were stunned. I couldn’t imagine that much money. Allie paled. Martha chuckled. My hand simply went to my mouth.

“Now the annual growth rate has been roughly seven and a half percent but it’s produced another twenty percent in capital gains. I’ve simply been rolling it over. How do you wish to handle this?”

Martha folded hand hands in prayer fashion, with her finger tips just beneath her chin. She smiled wryly at Allie. We gazed at one another almost instantly. Allie squeezed my hand and smiled adoringly. I simply smiled back at her and nodded my head. Allie turned her head whilst still gazing at me and she began to speak.

“We have an account with your firm at Susan’s recommendation.” Allie now looked at Martha with that same smile. “That’s already more than enough for us to live on quite comfortably. It might make things easier to consolidate both?”

“Oh…?” Martha smiled but the twinkle in her eyes told me she was very alert and…testing? “And to what end? That is a considerable sum of money.”

“Well…?” Allie giggled and glanced at me again. “Since we already have more than we need, why not simply give…say…” Allie turned to look at Martha. “…give one half of the future gains and all the interest to charities? I have a few favorites and I’m sure Andi could come up with a few; particularly where it concerns the arts.”

“I think that’s a marvelous idea.” Martha leaned forward and placed her hand atop Allie’s hand still holding mine. “And when will the wedding be. I assume you’ve begun to make plans.”

Martha chuckled at what must have been an astonished look upon our faces. We glanced at each other and giggled at the shocked look on our faces.

“Oh dear… You haven’t even thought about it; have you? Financial matters do become far easier when the joint account bears a joint name."

Martha laughed but her gaze was piercing as she looked at Allie. Then she gazed at me.

“Well then… Andi… You do love Allie” Martha asked with mirth in her eyes.

“Ummm…” I was caught a bit off guard with Allie doing most of the speaking for us. “Yes…! Absolutely…! With all of my heart...!” I felt myself becoming emotional…again.

“Does she take good care of you?” Martha’s voice was so…breathy?

“Yes…” I couldn’t begin to tell her how good Allie’s care was.

“Do you listen to her?” Martha’s eyes twinkled with…did I detect mischief?

“Always… I trust her completely.”

Martha turned her attention to Allie.

“Does Andi obey you?”

“Completely… She anticipates my every need.” Allie gazed at me with….pride?

“And Andi satisfies your… Oh dear… How shall I put this?” Martha gazed off for a moment. “Your more…corporal needs…?”

“Entirely…!” Allie laughed.

“So what are you waiting for?” Martha snickered. “The poor child obviously adores you and you seem to be in complete control. So you must lead and young Andi I’m sure will follow.”

It was as if a huge light bulb went on inside of Allie’s head. I’ve never seen such a grin on her face as she nodded at Martha.

“We really must do a little shopping.” Martha grinned wryly. “Perhaps I shall invite Susan to come along. We can speak of things that women of our…our manner need discuss. I understand that Susan has already stood for you and proposed you for membership in our…club.”

“Yes… She was very insistent that I consider it.”

“Yes… I can see why.” Martha chuckled. “If I may put in a little word?”

“Yes… Of course…” Allie sat forward. Martha had not taken her hand off of ours.

“Should you choose to join us, your mother will drop dead on the spot when you tell her.” Martha chuckled with glee. “She has wanted that privilege for years but nobody will bring her name up. I’m sure you understand why.”

Allie could barely contain herself with the image of her mother face upon hearing that news.

“Now here’s the rub. Andi would ordinarily have guest privileges and only with the particular member present. Those privileges are confined to the dining room and the library and there are so many other features to partake in that would be off limits.”

“Why can’t I be a member?”

I was a wee bit put off but I didn’t quite whine; although I felt like whining.

“Well dear...” Martha gazed at me with a smile but her brows were wrinkled in an expression of sympathy. “First of all… Nobody has proposed you for membership. Neither Allie nor I may do that. You’re my direct relation and she’s…well…she’s the mother of your child. Secondly, and quite sadly, you are not a genetic woman.”

I was forlorn. No…I was lost. My heart sank at the thought that I couldn’t ‘partake’ of everything in Allie’s life. This would definitely separate and delineate our relationship.

“But… If you are the spouse of a member, then you share their privileges providing you are not a male.” Martha gazed at me intensely. “And you are not a male…are you?”

I glanced at Allie for help but she simply smiled. She was enjoying my torture at the hands of my aunt. And Martha simply sat smiling gently but her eyes were piercing.

“Ummm…” I had to swallow. “I guess I’m not?”

“My own wife as well as Marti’s, my business partner, are in the same situation as you. Many of our members have found that wives such as you make for far superior life mates. Unfortunately whenever a vote comes up to remedy the situation of full membership, we fall short.” Martha’s Gray eyes turned quite sharp as she looked toward Allie. “Our mutual acceptance of one another is very crucial to change what should have been changed some time ago.”

“I understand completely.” Allie smiled and nodded. “It’s a minor detail in the scheme of things. But it’s the minor overlooked details that often are our downfall.”

Martha’s grin widened.

“I knew you would understand. You’re a very smart young woman. I’m sure you’ll learn much from our sisters and you will discover the power you truly have…and I might say…deserve.”

“And you recognize that Allie is in control of this relationship…and of you for that matter.”

“Uhhh… Yes…?”

“Well then… It’s settled.” Martha rubbed her hands together and she became most animated. “There hasn’t been a wedding at the club in some time. And I can’t think of two young people I’d rather see being the objects of attention.”

“But…” My voice was barely a whisper.

“Oh my God…! We’ll need to start planning.” Allie was so full of energy…and life. “There’s so much that will need to be done.”

“But…”

I kind of sank into myself. These two women were suddenly planning the rest of my life.

“Yes… Well…” Martha chuckled. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse. It would be wiser to consolidate the two accounts and drawn a monthly from it. What you need do my dear…” Martha grasped Allie’s hand. “…is formulate what your monthly expenses will be and that can disbursed automatically. But please do think big. There will be travel and seasonal events and of course the matter of another little mouth to feed.”

Whilst Martha and Allie spoke for quite a bit longer, I was still trying to get a firm grip…on everything. I noticed Meg jotting down notes as they spoke. She glanced up at me and smiled quite warmly. I was somewhat surprised that Meg was attending such an intimate meeting. But Martha, I’m quite sure, would prove to be full of surprises.

The ladies finished their conversation and Martha got up from her seat. I stood as well. Martha opened her arms wide and smiled tenderly at me. I seemed to be pulled into her arms and we held one another closely.

29-6 018-06a IMG_1720.jpgI began to softly weep again.

I was so very full of emotion and the need to belong. I felt one of her arms move from me and she embraced Allie as well. For the first time in a very long time, maybe ever, I had a family; a real family.

Martha backed away a wee bit and gazed at us both, her eyes also wet with tears and a huge smile on her face.

“Well children…” Somehow I found that appellation coming from her lips to be so comfortable. “I think it’s time we perhaps go have a bit of lunch.” Martha turned to Meg. “Meg dear… Let Mister Stone know we’re ready to go home.”

Meg smiled and wiped away yet another tear. She came to where we stood and hugged us all; Martha last. Their hug seemed to last just a bit longer. Meg whispered something into Martha’s ear and Martha replied. They hugged again and Meg went off to the door by the head of the table.

“Would you care to join us Meg?” Martha called out as Meg was crossing the door’s threshold.

“Somebody’s got to run the shop.” Meg waved and laughed.

Martha turned to us again.

“She’s right you know.” Martha chuckled. “I would be lost without her. Allie dear… I think it’s time we made your grand appearance at the club. Lunch time is always interesting and the dining room attracts a rather diverse crowd of members.” Martha linked arms with one of us on each side of her. “We want to make our intentions very clear although I’m sure Susan has been canvassing members.”

As we exited the large oak double doors of the conference room, Meg met us and helped Martha on with her sky blue linen blazer and her attaché and purse. We bid our goodbyes to Meg and the three of us proceeded down the long hallway to the elevator banks. When we arrived at the elevators, Martha reached into her blazer pocket and pulled out a key on a small gold fob.

“A privilege of position…” Martha chuckled as she inserted the key into a lock and turned it. “This one only goes to the top four floors. It’s not that I mind the people…” The stainless steel door immediately slid open and we entered. “It’s only that usually I’m in a rush to go somewhere and the…’local’ transit simply won’t do.”

Martha again used her key to turn the lock for the ground floor. I gazed about the car and noticed its splendid appointments down to the upholstered wooden bench against the dark wood paneling. Martha sat down as the elevator descended.

“Of course I normally take one of the other elevators in the mornings. I like to hear the chatter and let my people know I’m around. But today is special and I can’t wait to be in a more informal and less sterile surrounding.” Martha reached for my hand and I gazed down at her. “I can’t wait to bring you to my home. I have several things that might be of great interest to you.”

In little time we were out on the busy street. Martha led us to the waiting huge black car waiting curbside. The huge man, Mister Stone, opened the rear door. I thought it so strange that the door opened in the opposite direction than any other car I’d ever seen. Martha turned to us.

“I’m afraid we’ll be a bit snug in the rear but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Martha let Allie in first and seated her next to the near side door. She was about to allow me in next when I noticed the ornament on the car’s front. It seemed to be a winged figure of some sort. I simply had to take a quick look as Martha chuckled.

“Artists…” She said with a laugh as she spoke to Mister Stone. “They simply must explore everything. They touch, they smell, they taste, and most of all, they see things in a manner totally foreign to people like you and I.”

“So I’ve noticed…” He said with a chuckle.

I heard Mister Stone speak as I reached out to touch the figure of a winged woman and thought how fitting a symbol for Martha. I smiled at the smooth curved surfaces and a thousand ideas flashed through my mind. But there would be time later to recall these images. As I walked back and entered the car Martha spoke to me.

29-7a IMG_2448.jpg“She’s called the Spirit of Ecstasy.

Any thoughts dear...? Martha’s brows arched.

“Oh my God yes…! A thousand…!” I giggled and took my place in the center of the rear bench seat.

Martha chuckled as she entered and waved me to the other side. She sat between us and took our hands in each of her own. I took a moment to survey the inside of the massive vehicle. In spite of there being three of us in the rear, I found that there was even room to spare.

The interior had to be done by a very competent interior designer. The wood, steel, and fabric appointments were amazing. The fabric appeared to be silk or a silk blend and the pattern was finely printed. The powder blue fabric that lined the interior exhibited flowers and trees in a subdued color spectrum. It could have been hung as a work of design art.

There were two desks attached to the divide between the rear of the interior and the front where Mister Stone sat after closing the door behind us. A monitor was sandwiched between the desks and footrests were just below the arrangement. Beneath the screen was what appeared to be a cooler or a refrigerator?

“Where is the bar?” I quipped with a giggle.

“Oh dear…” Martha said with a sad smile. “I’m afraid I’m sitting on it.” She chuckled. “But if you would like some fruit juice or a bit of sparkling wine I have some in the fridge.”

“This car is amazing.” Allie was wide-eyed and giggly.

“Yes…” Martha smiled. “It was Pet’s idea. This constitutes my office on the way to where ever I’m going. Sometimes the morning traffic is so horrid that I’m thankful she thought of making it a bit more…comfortable? And we can all fit in with relative comfort. I have another car for those treasured days when she and I can escape for a few hours into the country.

We spoke quite casually on our journey up the East River Drive. I was captivated by the views and my surroundings to such an extent that my face actually hurt from smiling. We exited at Seventy First Street and headed west finally arriving at a huge double townhouse on East Sixty Eighth Street.

29-8a IMG_2409.jpg

Mister Stone exited the car but before he could even reach for the door handle a rather fit man dressed in dark suit reached us first. He opened the door and extended his hand to me. I gladly took it as I exited first. He greeted me warmly as I stepped onto the sidewalk followed by Martha.

“Good afternoon Ms. Gray…” The man smiled as he offered his hand.

“Good afternoon Mister Jameson…” Martha smiled warmly at him.

“Good afternoon madam…” Mister Jameson said to Allie.

“Mister Jameson… May I introduce my niece Andi and her…” Martha gazed off for a moment. “…her friend Alison Morris. Ms. Morris will become one of our associate members.”

Mister Jameson smiled at us.

“Congratulations Ms. Morris and welcome.” Then he turned to me. “And it’s certainly a pleasure to meet you Ms. Gray.”

‘Ms. Gray’...? Of course it was only natural that he assumed my name family name was Gray. Martha hadn’t bothered with my last name. Though I was a bit shocked, I had to admit it did have a certain…ring to it? I was becoming accustomed to the pronoun and, truth to tell, I was beginning to like it?

Mister Jameson went ahead of us and opened the huge wooden door with a simple brass plaque on it. The plaque had, in large letters, S.O.S. engraved in French script. Martha led the way into a most marvelous atrium. Different colored marbles and granites gave a classical elegance to the reception area. Fine Persian carpets littered the stone floor and oils hung on the walls.

29-9a IMG_2423.jpg “Good afternoon Ms. Gray…”

Another very well dressed man approached us. “Your office called and informed us you would be coming with two guests.”

“Yes…” Martha smiled. “This is my niece Andi and her friend Allie Morris. Ms. Morris is up for membership.”

“Yes…” The man looked at Allie. “It’s so nice to see you again Ms. Morris. Ms. Scoville has done nothing but speak highly of you.”

Allie blushed coquelicot but her smile said it all.

“Your table is prepared Ms. Gray.”

The man turned and led us into the dining room. I felt as though I’d stepped back into the nineteenth century.

29-10a IMG_2414.jpgThe appointments were amazing.

The green and gold wall paper was accented by crystal sconces and chandeliers that held real candles. Each table held two long tapers in crystal holders giving off a very intimate light.

The tables were covered in very fine linens and the weight of the flatware screamed sterling. Several crystal glasses were set to the right of each place and several freshly cut and very fragrant flowers were placed in silver flutes. Once again oils and drawings hung on the walls. Everything spoke of wealth and the kind of people that actually might have earned it.

But what was the most striking was the absence of any men other than servers and attendants of various sorts. As we proceeded through the aisles between tables, Martha was stopped and greeted. Allie even recognized two of the women dining and she detoured briefly to say hello. They all glanced at me long enough to cause me to smile, blush electric crimson profusely, and cast my eyes down to the fine Persian carpet runners beneath my feet.

Martha and I were seated whilst Allie remained for another few moments speaking to the women. The man who escorted us in held my chair out as I sat and assisted as I moved a bit closer to the table. That so reminded me of my evenings out with Peter. Almost immediately a waiter came up to the table.

“Perhaps something to drink Ms. Gray…and…Ms. Gray…?” He smiled warmly.

“Yes…” Martha’s eyes sparkled. “I’ll have my usual.”

29-11a IMG_2426.jpg“And you madam…?”

“Ummm…”

I should have been accustomed to the service but I was still in awe of the entire day. I glanced at Martha. Usually Allie took care of these things for me.

“Maybe a glass of white wine...? But something not too…dry…? Oh… And Allie will have an iced tea.” I said shyly.

“Perhaps the Chardonnay sixty nine…” Martha gazed at the waiter.

“An excellent choice…” And the waiter was off.

I leaned closer to Martha.

“There are no men eating here.” I was so curious but Martha simply chuckled.

“This is a lady’s club sweet heart. Men are only allowed entry at specific times. Although this is one of them…luncheon during the week…it’s usually only for business purposes. Male spouses are permitted on weekends and for special events. But they must always be attired in tuxedos regardless of how the wife is dressed. You see, we consider it a distinct privilege for a man, any man, to enter this club and so they should be attired accordingly.” Martha smiled as our waiter returned with our drinks.

I sat stunned. I gazed around and all the women and, aside from sneaking discrete glances toward us, they all seemed quite intent upon speaking with one another. From time to time laughter could be heard. As Allie came up to our table, one of the servers assisted her in sitting.

“Well…” Martha chuckled. “I see you wasted no time in making friends.”

“I met them through Susan. They are so delightful and what a wicked sense of humor.” Allie giggled. She took my hand and gazed at me. “They wanted to know all about you. They seemed so surprised that you are the father of our child.”

“Really…” Martha chuckled.

“Yes…”

Allie was excited to the point of kind of bouncing up and down in her chair like a small child on Christmas morning about to unwrap gifts; as if I’d known.

“I told them you were in the process of transitioning which seemed to delight them.”

“You did? It did?”

I was a bit shocked that such intimate knowledge was being bantered about. I must have paled a bit.

“Oh sweet heart…” Allie gave me her best maternal gaze. “It’s not a sin or a crime. And it does make the others here feel less…exposed? Plus baby doll… We have no secrets here.”

“Exposed…?” I was totally clueless...and exposed.

“Listen darling…” Martha placed her hand upon mine. “Pet transitioned several years ago and none of the members look twice or even think about it. She’s completely accepted for who she is. And so will you… After all, you’re only completing something you started on your own.”

“Yeah…” I sighed and took a sip of my wine. “I suppose you’re both right.”

“You must remember that you’re surrounded by very strong and independent women who more often than not had to go head to head with men. And…” Martha’s eyes sparkled as she spoke. “More often than not we won. So we simply want a place where we can gather and enjoy ourselves without the encumbrance of men.”

“That is so totally cool.” Allie nearly squealed.

“And…” Martha said rather off handedly. “We can exchange tidbits of information that are most helpful in maintaining our…” Martha smiled wryly. “…station.”

Our server returned with leather bound menus and proceeded to explain the items and how they were prepared. This was no doubt for Allie and my benefit than Martha’s. Of late I’d been letting Allie choose our meals. She could barely eat whatever she ordered. Our child was hogging more and more interior space so if she couldn’t eat everything, at least she could have a taste of what she desired.

Allie was quick to decide. It would be rack of lamb…she normally hated lamb…and a seafood salad. Martha ordered her ‘usual’, whatever that was, and our server disappeared.

I really don’t remember much about the meal other than the food being excellent. Everything seemed to be a blur. I would smile and blush a plethora of reds when I heard something flattering. And I would gaze up at Allie, who was quite animated. And I at Martha who was just as animated and excited.

“What is it dear?” Martha said as she placed her hand upon mine.

“Well…?” I took a deep breath and then a sip of the wine. “Everything is so…overwhelming.”

“How so…?” I gazed at Martha and she look concerned.

“Well…?” I glanced up at Allie. “It’s been almost a year since I finished school and moved in with Allie.’ That didn’t quite come out the way I meant. I sighed. “And I don’t recognize myself or my life. It’s like things are moving so fast and it frightens me.”

“It’s totally understandable sweet heart.” Martha spoke softly, smiled and gently patted my hand. “You’ve come from nowhere and suddenly you’re more than you ever dreamed you would be. You feel as though the world is eating you up. The pressures seem to be building and everybody wants a piece of you.”

“Yeah…”

29-6 018-06a IMG_1720.jpgI dabbed at a tear before it fell.

Martha signaled to our server and ordered another glass of wine for me. In truth…I needed it. I felt so…so over wroth.

“Allie dear… We must keep this one very close.” Martha looked at me with her most piercing gaze. “And don’t you dare become your father!” Martha’s sharp change of tone startled me. “The world around him became too large to handle. You’re an artist. I forbid you to think. You’re only allowed to feel and to tell us what you feel through your art. Is that understood?”

“Yes…” I giggled through my tears.

“There… That’s so much better. Life is too short to overwhelm oneself with such…such utter nonsense.” Martha laughed. “Anyway… Thinking is reserved for philosophers and sophists who add nothing to the world but questions when the real truth is what we choose to make it.”

I felt better. My world was building up and the bricks of my foundation were protectors; Peter, Rhona, Jill, Susan, always Allie, and now Martha. It’s not that the world was such a frightening place. It’s that the people in it could be so unreasonably demanding. People like the ‘suits’ Peter fended off and that Martha seemed to control like so many finger puppets.

I admired…no…I envied the way Martha dealt with people. I admired how she dealt so very warmly with Meg and so civilly with Mister Stone. I envied the manner she chose to deal with her ‘suits’; a flick of the wrist and they were gone like faint apparitions.

Martha seemed to almost instinctively know how to deal with whomever she happened across right down to the service people at her club; who she treated most respectfully.

“Oh…” Allie suddenly sat up with a distressed look upon her face.

“Are you okay?” I was more than a bit worried.

“Just indigestion…again…” She smiled at Martha. “I think I overdid it…again.”

“Nonsense dear…” Martha reached across the table to touch her hand. “It comes with the territory you’ve entered.”

“Yeah… But I should know better.” Allie giggled as the acid attack eased a bit.

“You should have your OB-GYN prescribe something for you.” Martha smiled sympathetically. “I know there was something our surrogate took whilst she was carrying. And she had terrible acid with the twins.”

“Oh my God…! I have twin…cousins?” I knew there was Petra but I had no idea.

“Indeed you do.” Martha chuckled. “The entire process was quite…interesting. A bit of Pet’s sperm…”

“Sperm…?” My jaw dropped.

“Why yes dear… Pet is…well…quite like you.” Martha chuckled. “And several of my not quite so rotten eggs were put together. So yes…indeed… They are your directly related cousins. We found a young woman in India who not only was as perfect a surrogate as physically possible, but also desired to be educated. So we brought her here where we could safely monitor the situation and attend to her education.”

“How clever…” Allie smiled broadly.

“Well…” Martha said quite breathily as she laughed. “I certainly wasn’t going to carry them and poor Pet, although she desperately would have given anything to do so, simply couldn’t. But she did get to nurse them quite a bit and that seemed to adequately fulfill her desire to experience motherhood.”

“Well…” Allie said with a wicked glimmer in her eyes. “Andi hopes to do the same. The poor dear also so desperately wants to feel the experience, or at least be an active part of it.”

“Good for you.” Martha smiled at me and patted my hand. “And well you should. It is an amazing experience even partaken second hand.”

We spoke for a while longer and I relaxed as the second glass of wine performed its magic. But poor Allie was really feeling uncomfortable and needed to get up and move around a bit. I gazed at the remains of my meal and hers and discreetly asked Martha if we could take the food with us.

“Nonsense…” She laughed. “I’ll have two meals prepared in full and they’ll be delivered to my home.” Martha smiled and she winked at me and whispered: “We don’t do doggie bags here.”

As we began to exit the dining room, my glass of wine in hand, I had a chance to view some of the pieces hanging on the walls.

“Those are wonderful lithos.” I muttered to myself.

“My dear girl…” Martha chuckled. “Those are not lithos.”

I was stunned. They were obviously Audubon watercolours. But originals…? They would be priceless.

“All the artwork you’ll see are originals.” Martha chuckled. “Not to sound pretentious… But this club has been in existence for quite some time and the members have seen fit to donate their art to our walls. Some of us, myself excluded…” Martha laughed. “…have excellent taste in art. And many of the works were purchased before the artists were acknowledged as extremely important.”

Martha led us across the atrium to a large room opposite the dining room. In it were glass doored bookcases containing what appeared to be leather covered tomes as well as various other volumes of some age. The furniture was of green leather covered wood and the pieces were antique. Each heavily upholstered chair and each settee had an accompanying end table with a brass shaded lamp to provide a private atmosphere for the reader.

Artwork hung between the cases and ceramics upon pedestals or brackets mounted upon the walls. There were three very large window bays with lace curtains drawn to prevent prying eyes from peering into this very private domain. I was gazing about the room as I sipped my wine when suddenly my eyes saw it.

I began to cough and choke mid sip.

“Are you alright?” Allie immediately began to pat me on my back as if I would cough up a bit of something.

29-12a IMG_1828.pngI simply pointed in mid cough to the far wall.

There hung the painting I did of Allie as I envisioned her near full term pregnancy. I loved that particular work. It exhibited a side of Allie that I think I envied the most; creation.

“I see…” Martha chuckled. “Our collection consists mostly of landscapes and wild life, such as birds, flowers, and such. When we do accept a work consisting of a figure, it’s usually of a member of outstanding accomplishments or something portraying the female form…or nature as in that case. I had no idea you were the artist.” Martha touched my cheek with her finger tips. “There are several of you works in our club that I do know of.”

“But who donated them?”

I was curious to know who would pay such prices to only give the art away…sort of.

“I really don’t know.” Martha said as she gazed at the painting. “But I do believe that one was donated by Susan.” Martha turned to face me. “She is your biggest booster you know. I knew she insisted that several of the other members attend your last showing and I’m fairly confident they purchased some of your work.” Martha took my hand in hers and she bent to kiss it. “Your dear Allie’s nude body graces the walls of one of the upstairs hallways and one of her…with child as they say…is on the third floor in our spa area.”

I can say I truly found this to be gratifying...and edifying. Of course an artist needs to see a reflection of their work in the eyes of others. It’s really our only sense of truth in what we see in our own eyes.

But to see, or I should say hear, of so much of my work in one place turned my sense of what is real into the surreal. In reality others have purchased my pieces; people that I do not know. I know I should have expected as much? But this was a shock none the less.

“Shall we walk over to my home?” Martha asked. “There you may kick off your shoes and simply relax of roam about. Pet will be there and anxiously awaiting both of you.”

“Is it far?” Allie asked.

“Dear me no… It’s only across the street and several doors down the block.” Martha smiled but looked concerned. “But if you’re a bit fatigued, I could have Mister Stone come with the car. It would be no trouble at all.”

“Oh no…” Allie grasped Martha’s arm. “I would enjoy the chance to move around a little.”

We exited the building, the doorman holding the door opened whilst bidding us a very good afternoon. I must say I felt more than a wee bit buzzed from the wine. We linked arms again with Martha between us and we strode across the street and down the block. The fresh air was delightful and I’d forgotten that it was only midafternoon. We had spent nearly two and one half amazing hours in the club.

29-13a IMG_2431.jpgHow will Andi relate to his new found ‘auntie’? How will Allie relate to Andi’s new found ‘auntie’? How will Martha relate to Andi? How will Martha relate to Allie? Can these questions become more insipid? Did you deposit your tissues appropriately? Does that answer the last insipid question? For further madness of epic proportions and questions of greater insipidness…be sure to read the next newly FDA, DHS, TSA, and CIA approved chapter of ‘Andi and Allie’!!!



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