"My parents insist she is, but I have my doubts. " Lulu poked her head in the box the minute Nell set it down on the center island. "The idea that I share blood with that pompous, narrow-minded, pissy little twerp gives me the willies. I'm eighteen months older, so we went through the sixties at close to the same pace. Difference is, she remembers them, which says it all. "
"Ah. " Nell tried to imagine Lulu as a freewheeling, free-loving hippie, and found it wasn't that much of a stretch. For the family dinner, she'd donned a sweatshirt that announced she was all out of estrogen and had a gun.
Fair warning, Nell decided.
"Urn. Still, it's nice that you sometimes get together like this. "
"She just comes out here, once every damn year, to lord it over me. According to the Gospel of Sylvia, a woman isn't a woman unless she has a husband and children, chairs some crappy committee, and knows how to make an emergency centerpiece out of twine, spit, and an empty tuna can. "
"We're going to do a hell of a lot better than that. " Nell busied herself by putting the roast in the oven, turning it to warm. "I made it au jus, so you just spoon that over, and serve it with the side dishes. The autumn salad goes first. Tell them to leave room for the pumpkin cheesecake. "
"That'll totally amaze her. " Lulu poured another glass of the wine she was tippling to get through the event. "I had a husband. "
She said it so fiercely, so viciously that Nell turned to stare. "Oh?"
"Don't know what made me do it legal. I wasn't knocked up or anything. Stupid. I guess I did it to prove I could still rebel
. He was no good, just as useless as he was handsome. It turned out his idea of marriage was having someplace to go after he'd finished boinking whatever floozie caught his fancy that particular night. "
"I'm sorry. "
"No need to be sorry. Live and learn. I kicked his ass out in nineteen-eighty-five. The only time it bothers me is when Syl comes around gloating about her husband, who's no more than a paper pusher, and has a spare tire you could ride on to Cleveland, her kids, who are a couple of snotty teenagers in two-hundred dollar track shoes, and the joys of her life in the suburbs. I'd rather be shot dead than live in some cookie-cutter house in the 'burbs. "
Since either the wine or the situation with Syl was making Lulu loquacious, Nell took advantage. "So, you didn't grow up here together?"
"Hell, no. We grew up in Baltimore. I took off when I was seventeen, went straight to Haight-Ashbury. I lived in a commune in Colorado for a while, traveled, experienced. When I came here, I wasn't yet twenty. I've been here over thirty-two years now. God. "
The idea of that had her knocking back the wine and pouring more.
"Mia's grandmother gave me a job doing this and that for her, then when Mia came along, her mother hired me to mind her when she needed minding. Carly Devlin's a nice enough person, but the fact was she didn't have much interest in raising a child. "
"So you did. I didn't realize. " No wonder, Nell thought, she was so protective of Mia. "Whatever your sister thinks, you've got a daughter at the heart of it. "
"Damn right. " She gave a little nod, then set down her glass. "Do whatever you need to do here. I'll be right back. " She started out, turned back. "If Syl the Pill comes back before I do, just tell her how you work at the bookstore and stopped in to ask me something about work. "
"No problem. " Keeping tabs on the time, Nell organized the meal, slipping the salad and the dressing in the refrigerator, sliding the scalloped potatoes and the herbed green beans in with the roast.
She peeked into the dining room, saw the table had yet to be set, and hunted out dishes and linens.
"First half of your payment," Lulu announced as she came back in with a wrinkled shopping bag.
"Thanks. Listen, I didn't know what dishes you wanted, but I think these'll work well. It's family, and they're casual and cheerful. "
"Good thing, as that's all I've got. "
Lulu waited while Nell dipped into the shopping bag, then smiled smugly at the gasp of pleasure. "Oh, oh, Lulu!"
It was a simple design, a mock turtleneck that could and would be worn with everything. But the color was a deep, rich blue and the material was as soft as a cloud.
"I never expected anything like this. " Already, Nell was holding it up, rubbing her cheek against the shoulder. "It's absolutely wonderful. "
"You wear too many neutrals. " Pleasing herself, Lulu tugged and fussed, then stood back to admire the result. "They wash the color out of your face. This brings it in, goes with your coloring. I started on the second one, nice tunic length in a good strong red. "
"I don't know how to thank you. I can't wait to try it on and-"
"They're back," Lulu hissed, and immediately began shoving Nell toward the door. "Go! Get. "
"You need to toss the salad just before-"
"Yes, yes. Go!"
Nell clutched her new sweater as Lulu slammed the door in her face.
"Serving," she finished and chuckled all the way to the car.
The minute she got home she stripped off her sweatshirt and slid into the magnificent sweater. Unable to get a satisfactory view from top to bottom, she dragged a chair in front of the mirror and stood on it.
There'd been a time when she'd had dozens of sweaters-cashmere, silk, the softest cottons, the thinnest wools. None of them brought her the sheer joy of this one, handmade by a friend.
Or close enough to a friend, she thought. And payment for a job well done.
She took it off again, folded it lovingly in a drawer.