Sworn to Secrecy

A short story

Mary Beth Jerome poured whiskey sours from a cut-glass pitcher into four matching highball glasses, garnished each with cheery round orange slices, set them on a tray filled with goodies, and pushed open the swinging door between her kitchen and dining room, singing out, “Here we go ladies!” Awaiting her at the mahogany dining table that had been in her second husband’s family for generations were Barbara Lewis, Pandy Clayburgh, and Diane Sanderson. “Brought us a few cheese straws and some nibbles. Nothing serious enough to get in the way of a good afternoon buzz,” she added with girlish giggles, handing each woman a glass. Mary Beth enjoyed a little toot in the afternoons — and in the evenings as well. “Hope these will do,” she apologized. “I can’t leave treats around when Ricky’s home. He devours everything in sight. Have you seen him lately? The man’s a human building!”

Diane chuckled as she sauntered around the room, making a show of inspecting the various antiques and paintings. “You’ve landed on your feet,” she observed. Mary Beth responded with a nervous titter. Diane took a large canapé from the tray and placed it on a cocktail napkin that read: I believe in the power of positive drinking.

“I shouldn’t,” Pandy said, declining the food. She ignored Diane’s snicker. “Your home is lovely, Mary Beth. Calhoun has always been my favorite street in the uptown.”

“Mine, too,” Barbara agreed.

“Guess we should get started.” Pandy announced. “All we have to do is put invitations in the envelopes, address them, and then seal and stamp them. I’ve color-coded the lists. Diane, yours are green. Barbara, you get blue. Mary Beth, the red are for you. And I’ll do the white ones.”

“How many names are on a list?” Barbara asked, scanning hers.

“We each have about 75,” Pandy replied as she rummaged through the canvas bag on her lap. “There were 321 in our graduating class. A few of us have died, and we don’t have current addresses for some others. Oh. Here they are.” She held up felt-tipped pens. “One for each of us, and a couple of sponges for sealing the envelopes.”

Mary Beth finished her drink. “Pandy is so wonderfully organized.”

“Oops,” Diane said, raising her hand. “Isn’t Roz Curley dying of something? Seems cruel to send her an invitation when she won’t live long enough to come.”

“We can’t exclude her because she’s sick,” Pandy replied.

Barbara nodded. “Lots about this reunion will be bittersweet. It’s nostalgic just seeing these names. So many people I’ve forgotten. And some,” she said, covering her mouth to hide a wry smile, “I’ll never forget.”

“And one or two you were hoping to forget, right Mary Beth?” Diane added.

Mary Beth paled. She stuck her fingers in her glass and retrieved the orange slice.

“Dave Duchamp,” Pandy said wistfully. “I always liked him.”

“You mean the tall, nerdy kid? The math wiz?” Diane asked.

“Yeah. What a sweetheart,” Pandy said. “We dated a few times. I heard he married a real nice girl from Pensacola.”

“And I heard they’re divorcing,” Diane told her.

“From who?” Pandy asked.

“You know I can’t tell.” Diane pressed her index finger against her lips and then whispered, “Hairdressers are like priests, sworn to secrecy. Let’s just say my source knows Dave like a sister.”

“Mystery solved,” Barbara declared.

“Ray Sharkey,” Diane read from her list. “His son was just arrested for car theft. No surprise there. Like father, like son. Ray was always such a bad boy.” A smile appeared on Diane’s face.

“I can’t believe we’re sending an invitation to Nolan Fryer.” Barbara cried, the alarm in her voice more emphatic than she’d intended.

“He did graduate with us,” Pandy answered.

“I know, but jiminy,” she replied, exaggerating a shiver, “Didn’t he do time in prison for something awful?”

“We’re not judges,” Pandy shrugged. “We’re just addressing envelopes.”

“He’s a wife beater.” Diane said, leaning forward. “His wife was a client at the salon. Poor thing, I’ll never forget the time she showed up with bruises and a black eye.”

Mary Beth stood, her empty glass in hand. “Was she in school with us?”

“No. She’s this little mousey thing from down state somewhere,” Diane replied.

“Keep going, girls,” Mary Beth said as she headed toward the kitchen. “I’ll be right back.”

Once Mary Beth disappeared, Diane tipped her hand to her mouth; telling the others that Mary Beth had gone to sneak another drink. “She’s so unhappy, poor dear. Guess that’s what you get when you marry on the rebound.”

“Oh, Diane,” Pandy said, shaking her head.

“Oh Diane, what? I heard they never have sex any more. Ricky’s gotten so fat he probably can’t find his own pecker.”

Barbara chuckled and then held up an envelope. “Rebecca Levine. Think she’ll spring for the fifty bucks?”

“Jeez,” Pandy shot back. “What a tough crowd.”

“Where’s your sense of humor, Pandy? I’ve always liked Becky, but everyone knows how those people can be.”

“A lot like the Scottish from what I hear, Barbara Macintyre.” Pandy replied.

“I’d be the first to admit that the Scots can be a wee bit thrifty.”

“Funny, if you’re a Presbyterian, you’re a wee bit thrifty. If you’re a Jew, you’re just plain cheap.”

“Really, Pandy, when did you turn radical on us?” Barbara glanced at the other women for support.

“Well girls, here’s someone we can all agree on!” Diane pressed an envelope to her bosom. “Who wouldn’t love to see Johnny Bender again?”

“Think he’ll come?” Barbara asked.

“Doubt it. Especially if Martha is there.”

“Oh, that was years ago. A guy that handsome could date starlets.”

“In L.A., I hear the choice is between facelifts and boob jobs.” Diane laughed.

Mary Beth returned from the kitchen with the pitcher and topped off all the glasses. “Drink up! You’re falling behind!” She held up her glass. The others raised theirs, but only Diane took a sip; Barbara and Pandy simply set theirs back down. Mary Beth took several hearty swallows before doing the same.

“I heard from a reliable source,” Diane stated with verve, “that Martha is the reason why Johnny’s never married. She broke his heart and it’s never fully mended.”

“Yet another reliable, but anonymous, source?” Pandy asked.

“My lips are sealed.” Diane pretended to lock her lips with a turn of her fingers.

“That seal seems mighty porous,” Pandy mumbled with the intention of being overheard.

“I can’t help it if people talk with their beauticians like they do with bartenders. Truth hurts. Right, Mary Beth?”

Mary Beth lowered her glass, her expression frozen. “I have no idea what you two are talking about.”

“I have a question,” Barbara interrupted, “what do you plan to wear to the party? No matter who shows up, we’re all going to want to look our best.”

Diane raised her hand. “You three want to come to the Beauty Box the day before the reunion? I’ll do your hair. My Thursday afternoons are free.”

Barbara curled her bottom lip into a pout. “Denise would never forgive me if I went to anyone but her.”

“I do my own hair.” Mary Beth said.

Pandy remained silent, and kept on addressing envelopes.

Diane snorted, turned, and reached for a handful of nuts.

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