For Now and Forever
SPRINGHILL MANOR – LIBRARY
Dane Manchester stood in silence, his eyes unable to look anywhere else but at the photographs of him and Kitty Benedict that were strewn across the desk, as a huge lump formed in his throat.
“What’s wrong, Dane?” his mother-in-law, Joyce Preston, laughed menacingly. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Where… where did you get these?” he asked as he finally began to gather his wits about him. “Were you spying on me?”
“I have my ways. Surely you know that by now.” She leaned forward and brushed her lips against his ear. “Now the question is – what am I going to do with those pictures? I’m pretty certain that the last thing you want is for anyone to see them – not my precious Sara and definitely not your father.”
“What… what do you want?” he asked in a voice barely above a whisper, the wind almost completely knocked out of him. “What do you want to keep those pictures secret?”
“What do I want?” Joyce repeated the question and then let out a throaty laugh. “Why, Dane dear, it should be blatantly obvious – I want everything!”
LADY J’S JAZZ CLUB
“Are you… sure about his?” Leticia Rutherford asked as her husband, Dr. Fred Rutherford, helped her push her seat up to the table. Her eyes darted around the darkened and smoky club with trepidation. “This doesn’t quite seem to be our typical type of crowd.”
“I know it’s a little off the beaten path, but it has quite the reputation at work.” He hurriedly took his seat next to her, across the table from her daughters Judith and Janet and Janet’s husband, Burt.
“Oh, I’m sure it does have a reputation,” Judith Linford grumbled dryly and pulled her arms in tightly to her body, “and I can only imagine what it is!”
“The music, Judith – the music.” Fred glared at his step-daughter before motioning for a waitress. “Everyone at work goes on about how fantastic the music is from the singers to the band. I thought it would be a nice turn to take everyone out for a nice evening that wasn’t run of the mill.”
“Well, I for one think it’s fantastic!” Janet Lamont beamed, her eyes dancing over every possible inch of the room so that she could soak in every possible ounce of ambiance available.
“You would,” Judith again muttered icily.
“Burt, isn’t this like some of those places you told me about where you worked when you were living in New York?” Janet turned asked her husband. She didn’t see Judith’s eyes begin to blaze with jealous anger.
“Very similar, yes,” he nodded in response, very deliberately refusing to pay Judith’s glare any attention.
“It’s too bad Reginald and Jillian couldn’t make it.” Fred took Leticia’s hand into his and stroked it tenderly. “But considering her condition, it’s understandable. We’ll just have to make a point to have them over for dinner once she’s feeling better.”
“I’d really like that,” Leticia smiled, but then caught sight through the thick cloud of smoke of a Negro couple out of the corner of her eye. “Are you… sure it’s okay that we’re here? I… I mean we don’t exactly… seem to belong.”
“We don’t.” Judith remained rigid in her seat, her hands clasped tightly in her lap as if she were afraid to touch anything.
“Nonsense!” Fred laughed. “Everyone belongs here. That’s one of the things that’s most appealing. Just look around – you’ve got lower class, you’ve got the artsy types, you’ve got the ritzy upper class, you’ve got Negros… you’ve got a little bit of everything. Everyone belongs. And the music’s good.”
“I should’ve known this would be your type of place,” Judith continued to grumble. “This is all right up your alley. Honestly, I can’t believe you’ve dragged all of us out to this… this… hovel, but considering your lack of couth, I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Judith, don’t you think you’re over exaggerating just a tad?” Burt leaned forward to address his sister-in-law directly. “Why don’t you simply relax and try to enjoy yourself. Janet and I are.”
“Oh, I bet you are,” Judith glared at Janet. “Go head. Live it up while you can. It’s not going to last forever.”
Although Judith’s cryptic comments sailed past Fred, Leticia, and Burt virtually unnoticed, Janet was keenly aware of their implication. Judith had made it very clear that she had affixed an expiration date to Janet’s happiness, unfortunately Janet didn’t have the first clue when that date was and that fact terrified her more than words could express.
LADY J’S JAZZ CLUB
“Naomi, this was a wonderful idea,” Dr. Calvin Jackson smiled as he leaned across the table towards his sister. “Ruby and I have been dying to come here for months. I hear the band is something else.”
“I can promise you that you ain’t heard nothin’ like these boys.” Naomi Jackson’s eyes darted from her brother to his girlfriend, Ruby Thomas, who sat in near silence next to him. “Ruby, you ain’t said much since we got here. Don’t you like Lady J’s?”
“It’s very nice, thank you,” Ruby replied with sincere honesty. “I agree with Calvin. I’ve heard wonderful things about this place, too.”
“That’s why I thought it would be the perfect place for us to go out and have a good time. Once Mrs. Manchester found out that I wanted to take you all out for the night, it seemed like she couldn’t wait to offer to watch Aubrey for me.”
“Your employer offered to babysit for you?” Ruby’s eyes grew wide. “That doesn’t sound like any employer I’ve ever met. I can’t even imagine Mrs. Rutherford or Mrs. Linford offering to babysit for me so I could have a night out. Heavens, I can barely even picture them watching their own children.”
“Are you accusin’ me of lying?” Naomi snapped before she had a chance to catch herself.
“N-no, it’s not that,” Ruby quickly replied as she attempted to soothe what could quickly escalate into a volatile situation. “It’s just that… well… I know how unusual it is to have employers who think of you as more than just an employee.”
“And Mr. and Mrs. Manchester do,” Naomi nodded, quickly accepting what Ruby had said. “In fact, they once told me that thought of me and Aubrey almost like family. Mrs. Manchester has really taken a liking to the baby.”
“You’re very lucky like that,” Calvin spoke up, hoping to ease a bit of the tension that had crept into the conversation. “You know, Naomi, I have to confess that I was a little surprised when you suggested that we all come out together tonight.”
“Well, you know I told you how I wanted Ruby here and I to get along better.” Naomi looked across the table and smiled sweetly at Ruby. “Tonight seemed as good a time as any.”
“I agree,” Ruby nodded warmly, “but you’ll have to forgive me for be a little surprised by this sudden change. After everything you said the other day, if someone would have told me that you’d be so eager to make nice, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.”
“What’re you tryin’ to say, Ruby? You accusin’ me of….”
“Now, now, Naomi, I’m sure that she doesn’t mean a thing by it – nothing at all. Isn’t that right, Ruby?” Calvin turned and shot her a stern look. “But even you have to admit that this seems to come out of nowhere. I’m sure Ruby is just as curious as I am about what’s changed your mind.”
Naomi leaned back in her seat as her eyes moved from her brother to Ruby. No matter how Ruby seemed to deliberately try to get under her skin and trip her up, she knew that she couldn’t let her. Naomi had to stick to Mrs. Preston’s plan.
“Well… It was actually that day you can over for a visit,” she began to explain, a warm yet false smile stuck to her face. She reached across the table and grabbed hold of Ruby’s hand. “You kept going on about wanting to be closer and… well… I admit I wasn’t very nice to you that day. In fact, I ain’t been very nice to you at all. Anyways, after you left I started thinkin’ about what you said once about how much it’d mean to Calvin if we got along and that’s when I decided that I needed to put forth more of an effort. If I do have a confession to make, it’s that all of this don’t have as much to do with you, Ruby, as it does with Calvin. I want to make the effort to get along… for his sake. And maybe, in the process, you and I might actually become real friends – best friends.”
“Well, I think this is fantastic.” Calvin nearly glowed with joy over his sister’s revelation. “You know, Naomi, this has been something that I’ve wanted for months – you and Ruby to finally get along. I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Don’t you agree, Ruby?”
“Um, I…. Of course. Of course, I do.”
Ruby struggled not to display her shock and surprise on her face. Nothing that Naomi had ever said or done would’ve led her to believe that any of this sudden change of heart was genuine. As she sat in stunned silence, her hand still held tightly in Naomi’s, Ruby couldn’t help but be suspicious that her boyfriend’s sister was up to something.
SPRINGHILL MANOR – LIBRARY
“Everything?” The words stuck in Dane’s throat which was quickly going dry. “What the devil do you mean by that? Everything?”
“You’re a bright boy, Dane,” Joyce laughed. “If you’re having so much trouble with the word, look it up in a dictionary. Or better yet, let me spell it out for you. I want everything – my darling Thornton’s entire estate. Lock, stock, and barrel.”
“I thought that’s what we were working on – getting Sara to sign over your rightful share to you.”
“We were working on that, yes,” she nodded. “But, you see, I’ve recently felt forced to reevaluate my goals. After all, why should I settle for whatever measly pittance Sara sees fit to give Naomi? She went to a great deal of trouble to con poor Thornton out of his estate. I highly doubt that she’d give up any significant chunk of her ill-gotten gains so readily, no matter how Naomi uses that brat of hers to tug on Sara’s heartstrings.”
“Joyce, I know you’re convinced that Sara set out to have an affair with your husband in order to convince him to cut you out of his will and leave his entire estate to the two of us, but….”
“She did it just to spite me!” Joyce spat. “That wretched, vengeful girl did it just to get back at me – to pay me back for leaving like I did all those years ago!”
“Sara simply isn’t the vindictive type,” Dane continued as he attempted to ignore the bulk of his mother-in-law’s ravings. “Yes, she’s stubborn and headstrong; and, yes, she can be a little duplicitous if she has to be and if she thinks that the end result is justified, but I honestly can’t believe that she willfully had an affair with your husband and certainly not as a part of some grand plan to bilk the old man out of his estate! That’s just not the Sara I know.”
“And here we’ve hit upon the root of our current situation.”
Joyce began to saunter around the room, taking slow, deliberate steps as if she were stalking and sizing up her prey. The steely and determined look in her eyes caused Dane’s blood to run cold.
“I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, Joyce.”
“Well, since you seem determined to drag it out of me….” She let out a pronounced and overly dramatic sigh for effect. “What it all boils down to, Dane, is that I don’t trust you. You’ve made me certain promises and I was under the impression that we had an agreement about how to handle Sara, but you seem completely unable to keep yourself out from under her spell. Yes, you have shown momentary evidence of having something that resembles a backbone and a willingness to take control of your own affairs – clearly evidenced by these pictures – but here you are back clinging to my daughter’s skirt and making syrupy proclamations of love. You’re making it quite obvious where your true loyalties lay.”
“I admit that I’ve been far from the perfect husband or anything like the husband I’d always imagined I’d be.” Dane hung his head in embarrassment, his eyes instinctively drifting to the photographs. “But no matter what mistakes I’ve made or lapses in judgment, I do love Sara – I’ve always loved Sara.”
“You’ve always loved Jillian Callison, too,” Joyce swiftly reminded. “From the way I hear it, you were still mooning over her while you were waiting for my daughter at the altar. Then there’s this lounge hostess and who knows how many other girls.”
“What does any of this have to do with our agreement? I don’t understand….”
“I don’t trust you!” she spat. “I’m no longer convinced that I can rely on you to uphold our end of our arrangement to use Naomi and that kid of hers to con my daughter out of that money she conned out of my husband.”
“I made a deal with you and…”
“And now, based on everything that I’ve witnessed in this house, the terms of that deal have changed. I’m no longer satisfied with whatever paltry settlement Naomi can squeeze out of Sara. I want what’s rightfully mine as Thornton’s widow. I want everything – the entire estate!”
“You’ve lost your mind!” Dane shook his head fervently, unable to believe what he was hearing. “If you think that there’s any way that I’m going to convince Sara to sign over the entire estate to you than you’re crazy!”
“Think whatever you like, Dane,” Joyce smiled, “but if you don’t convince Sara to sign over her entire inheritance to Naomi than I’ll make sure that everyone gets a good look at these pictures – including your father. I wonder what that type of a scandal might do to his political campaign. How do you think he’d react to the knowledge that your actions cost him the election?”
No matter what Dane wanted to say to Joyce, he knew she was right. Those pictures of him in Kitty’s arms would certainly cause quite a scandal if they ever hit the press. Of course, no one could be certain what effect it might actually have on his father’s political campaign, but he knew that his father’s reaction would be far from favorable.
LADY J’S JAZZ CLUB
As the lively commotion of the club’s guests carried on around her, Judith sat in deliberate silence while she carefully watched Burt and Janet as they enjoyed the band’s music out on the dance floor. She couldn’t help but notice how happy they were – so blissfully content. Oh, if Burt only knew the things that Judith knew. Of course, Janet was well aware of everything Judith now remembered and Judith was relishing in the knowledge that Janet was spending every precious minute of her happiness with Burt waiting for Judith to finally tell Burt everything that would change their lives forever. Judith was certain that, despite her false displays of happiness, the wait was akin to a secret torture – and Judith reveled in that knowledge.
While Judith was pre-occupied with her intense thoughts, Fred and Leticia enjoyed the warmth of each other’s company, magnified by the thrill of an adventurous evening out.
“Now that I’ve had a chance to acclimate myself to these unusual surroundings, I’m beginning to appreciate this environment,” she smiled as he put his arm around her and pulled her closer to him. “Perhaps it is a good thing to step out from a person’s regular routine and experience new things. When Nelson and I were together, our lives were so structured, so rigid. We always moved in the same social circles and went to the same establishments where we would meet the same people – important and esteemed people, of course, but still the exact same people. Nothing ever changed.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that now,” Fred laughed as he motioned towards the crowd. “If you’ll let me do nothing else for you but introduce you to different sights, sounds, and experiences like tonight, then it’ll be worth every penny. Tonight is my treat after all.”
“Your treat? But I… I thought you told me you were having some kind of a ‘cash flow’ problem. Now I know this place isn’t exactly the Ritz, but the bill for all five of us for a full evening out certainly can’t be cheap.”
“Leticia, darling, certainly you can’t be worried about money.” He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “True, my own personal accounts seem to still be in a bit of a state of flux, but our account is….”
“Closed,” she spoke up, finishing his sentence in a way he wasn’t quite expecting. “Our joint bank account is now closed.”
“I… I don’t understand.” He let go of her hand and pulled away from her as he tried to mentally process the news she’d just delivered out of the blue. “How can our account be closed? Is there some kind of problem with the bank? Did something happen with the funds in New York?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the funds,” she began slowly. “Everything is still exactly where it should be, I merely… closed our joint account. All of the funds have been returned to my personal account and various private business accounts.”
“But… why? I thought I explained all of that mess with the bank discrepancies.”
“You did, darling,” she smiled and patted his hand. “It’s just that… well… Mr. Crowley suggested that it might be best if we kept our finances separate for… paperwork reasons. I wasn’t so sure, but when I talked to Mark about it, he made me see that it would be for the best.”
“You don’t trust me!” Fred nearly spat at her as beads of perspiration began to dot his brow. “I can’t believe that my own wife doesn’t trust me!”
“Oh, Fred!” Leticia gasped and reached out for his hand. “You can’t believe that? I trust you implicitly! I trust you with my life! It’s just that… well… I still have certain business obligations because of the complexities of Nelson’s estate. And then there’s my own personal financial dealings concerning the Wentworth estate….”
“And I’m just a small town simpleton doctor. That’s what you’re really saying, isn’t it? I’m not a Stokes or a Wentworth, so I can’t be trusted….”
“I knew you’d take it like this. I tried to tell Mark, but he insisted….” She let out a weary sigh and began to rub her temples in an attempt to massage away a piercing headache that had suddenly begun to form. “Look, Fred, I love you. You’re my husband. I trust you. I also know that… well… having such easy access to so much money would be a temptation to anyone – not just you – and Mark and Mr. Crowley have made me understand that I simply have to think about the bigger picture. You still have access to whatever money you need until your own accounts are straightened out. You simply have to go through me and my personal account. You don’t have to worry; you know I’ll approve anything you ask for.”
“But you’re still the one holding the purse strings,” he grumbled under his breath, his mind immediately turning to thoughts of Joyce Preston and another blackmail payment that was quickly coming due.
Before Fred could further voice his disapproval of this unexpected change in his financial status, Burt and Janet came breezing back to the table, fresh from a rather lengthy spin on the dance floor.
“I… hope we’re not interrupting anything,” Janet spoke up cautiously as she immediately noticed the tension between her mother and step-father. “Burt and I could….”
“Oh, just sit down,” Judith barked, her attention returning to the table. “You’re not interrupting anything except Fred’s tantrum over Mother cutting off his money.”
Both Leticia and Fred’s eyes grew wide with shock. Neither one of them thought that Judith had been eavesdropping on their intimate conversation because they’d taken for granted that an obviously distracted Judith’s attentions were focused elsewhere.
“If you two need to be alone….” Burt took hold of Janet’s hand and began to gently nudge her back towards the dance floor.
“Sit down, Burt.” Judith smiled at him sweetly before turning to sneer at Janet. “Whatever little tiff Fred and Mother were having is clearly over now and since this entire evening is on his dime – well, once he clears it with Mother, of course – you might as well enjoy it.” She paused to lean in closer to Janet. “While you can, at least.”
Judith’s thinly veiled threat caused Janet to shiver. Janet knew exactly what kind of tenuous ground her entire life was on now that it was obvious that Judith’s full memory of the night she lost her baby had returned. Judith was merely laying in wait for the right opportunity to tell Burt about what a horrible, awful person Janet was. If only Janet could figure out why Judith had decided to hold off on revealing the news…. However, before Janet could contemplate the issue further….
“Oh, for the love!” Judith grumbled with a roll of her eyes as she motioned across the dance floor. “It’s Ruby! I can’t believe Fred would drag us out to the same kind of dingy nightclub our own maid would frequent!”
Realizing that the evening was quickly growing longer and longer, Judith motioned for a waiter to bring her yet another martini.
LADY J’S JAZZ CLUB
“I’m certain I saw her,” Ruby said as she craned her head to scan through the crowd again.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Calvin laughed. “You probably just saw some who looks like her.”
“Looks like who?” Naomi was continuing to do her best to act interested in anything Ruby had to say, although it was taking every last bit of willpower she could muster.
“Ruby swears she saw the woman she works for, Mrs. Linford, here somewhere,” he explained.
“You saw your boss here?” Naomi leaned back in her seat and gawked at Ruby in disbelief. “I highly doubt those folks in that big white house would be caught dead in here at Lady J’s. We’re not exactly the kind of people they would socialize with.”
“But I’m positive that I saw….”
Before Ruby could finish speaking everyone’s attention was drawn towards the snappily dressed man walking briskly towards them with his arms outstretched.
“Naomi!” Tyke Harris called out as she quickly jumped to her feet and flew into his arms. “It’s about time you got yourself in here during business hours. I was beginning to think I was gonna have to up and drag you in here kickin’ and screamin’.”
“Now, you know you wouldn’t have had to do that.” Naomi flashed him a coy smile before turning her attention to Calvin and Ruby. “Tyke, I’d like you to meet my brother, Dr. Calvin Jackson, and his girl, Ruby Thomas. Calvin, Ruby, this is an old friend of mine, Tyke Harris.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Jackson.” Tyke shook Calvin’s hand firmly and then smiled at Ruby. “But even more of a pleasure to meet this lovely young lady.”
“Who is spoken for.” Calvin put his arm around her and pulled her close. “So, Naomi, how do you know Mr. Harris here?”
“Please, call me ‘Tyke.’ All my friends do.”
“Ol’ Tyke and I go way back,” Naomi explained with a playful smile.
“Naomi here used to sing with my band. Had a voice like an angel. Damn shame the girl refuses to sing anymore.”
“Tyke, you and I’ve done talked about this,” Naomi grumbled. The topic was clearly one she didn’t like having brought up and she desperately wanted a change in conversation. “Anyway, Tyke here’s in town now and leading the band.”
“I ain’t just leading the band,” he grinned slyly, “I bought to whole damn club!” He loudly slapped his hands onto the table, clearly excited by that development. “And I really wish you’d reconsider coming back to sing for me, Naomi.”
“Tyke, I’ve already told you that…”
“Well, I’ll be! Tyke Harris! What the devil are you doing here in Albanyville?”
Everyone turned in the direction of the familiar voice to see Burt and Janet standing at the table.
“Mrs. Lamont!” Ruby gasped. “I… I didn’t expect to see you here tonight.”
“Oh, Ruby, please. Enough with the formalities,” Janet laughed. “You don’t work for me. Call me ‘Janet.’ Now, Burt, why don’t you tell me how you two know one another.”
“That’s something I’d like to know myself.” Naomi turned and looked at Tyke, curiosity clearly etched on her face.
“You remember that club me and the boys played at back in New York,” he began to explain. “Well, ol’ Burt here was working the bar. I say that he’s got to be the last person I ever expected to see here in this town. Now, Burt, whatever happened to that blonde society gal you were seein’ who liked to come slummin’ down at the club?”
“I… um….” An anxious Burt glanced in Janet’s direction to see her reaction, but was relieved to see that she was far too caught up in idle chatter with Ruby to pay Tyke or his comments much attention. “Let’s just say that it didn’t work out. Besides, I’m married now to this pretty blonde society gal.” He let out a slight chuckle to downplay the true drama behind his simple story.
“Calvin, Ruby, why you’re getting caught up with the Lamonts, I’m goin’ to go track down that pitiful excuse for a waiter and get us another round of drinks.”
Naomi quickly hurried away from the table. All the extra effort to make nice with Ruby was beginning to take its toll on her and she desperately needed any excuse to get away for a break. What Naomi didn’t realize was that Tyke, who she’d presumed was still at the table going over old times with Burt, had quickly followed along behind her.
“So what’s the story?” he asked as he reached out and grabbed her by the arm. “Is that girl and your brother serious?”
“That girl? You mean Ruby?” Naomi let out an amused laugh. “Those two are connected at the hip. That’s part of my problem. She thinks that just because she’s my brother’s girl then she can stick her nose into my business where it don’t belong.” She paused and eyed Tyke with suspicion. “Why are you so interested in Calvin and Ruby?”
“No real reason,” he grumbled as his eyes drifted back towards the table where Calvin and Ruby were now alone, Burt and Janet having long left to return to their own table. “It’s just that that Ruby is a mighty fine dish. I was just thinking that if she and your brother weren’t real serious…. But, nah, it’s obvious that she’s got herself real hung up on him and I wouldn’t want to go treadin’ into someone else’s territory.”
“Of course, you wouldn’t,” Naomi muttered.
As she stared at her brother and Ruby, the gears inside her head began to turn and a plan began to formulate. Mrs. Preston had told her that if Ruby had some sort of upheaval in her life then she wouldn’t have enough time to go worrying about Naomi’s life. With Tyke’s words still echoing in her head, Naomi realized that he might be just the upheaval Ruby needed.
TO BE CONTINUED
Judith prepares to tell Burt the truth.
For Now and Forever
©2001- 2012 Classic Soap Productions