Aug. 24, 2021

Text

 

 

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET

By Joan Hall Hovey

Feeling a thrill of both recognition and surprise, Nancy double-checked the address she'd scribbled on the scrap of paper she held in her hand. But there was no doubt; this was the same beautiful white two-story house, with its black shutters and gingerbread trim, she'd passed to and from school for much of her young life, and that she'd so often fantasized about. She had imagined how it would look inside: chandeliers, oriental rugs, a sweeping staircase leading to beautiful bedrooms. A house fit for a movie star. Set back from the street, the manicured lawn rolled down to the ornamental wrought-iron gate parallel to the street. There were a few well-placed white birch trees, one of which had a cozy bench beneath it. Nancy had never seen anyone sitting there.

She was here to be interviewed for the job of companion to an elderly woman. Light housekeeping and meal preparation included, the ad said. No problem.

Looking up at the house a moment longer, she then opened the gate that swung inward easily and went up the stone walk flanked by colorful flowers that gave off a glorious fragrance. Taking a deep breath, she rang the bell.

At once, a tall man perhaps in his somewhere in his forties wearing black-rimmed glasses opened the door and smiled at her. He had a nice face and deep blue eyes. "Hello. You must be Nancy. Meadows. I'm Richard Preston, Mrs. Worth's lawyer and friend of many years. Mrs. Worth is waiting for you in the library slash bedroom since the stairs have become too much for her." He gestured to the partially open french doors. "You may go right in,"

The house was even grander than she had imagined as a little girl. The staircase curved upward in the center of the large room, leading to the landing that she assumed branched off to opulent bedrooms. An enormous crystal chandelier hung from the high ceiling completing the Hollywood ambiance. She could almost see the legendary Norma Desmond descending the stairs in Sunset Boulevard. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."

On entering the library, her eye was drawn to the wall of bookshelves holding many leather-bound books. There was a small fireplace, and Nancy envisioned a crackling fire to warm chill winter nights. Knowing she might never come here again, she tried to burn every detail to memory.

Mrs. Worth sat like a queen on a luxurious sofa, a crocheted shawl draped across her knees. Beneath silvery, upswept hair, her face, with its classic bone structure, was pale and too-thin. But the light blue eyes that scrutinized Nancy, held an unmistakable sparkle.

"I can see you're impressed with the place. Proves you have good taste. It will go to my niece when I'm gone; no doubt she'll make the place unrecognizable. But I suppose most young people would prefer it more modern, open concept as they say, lots of granite and stainless steel. Still, it makes me sad. Come closer, my dear. My eyes aren't as sharp as they used to be. Sit, please."

A chair with curved legs angled toward Mrs. Worth and Nancy sat, horrified at the thought of someone changing anything about this house, let alone tear down walls.

She'd worn her navy linen suit and pearls. The pearls had belonged to her mother when she was alive. They weren't real of course, and Mrs. Worth would know that. But she thought they looked nice.

"Well, Nancy Meadows, you look like a sensible young woman. Are you?"

"I am, yes, ma'am."

“Always?”

“I think so. Yes.”

"Really. How boring for you. I was a bit of cut-up myself at your age. So what do you do for fun?"

Nancy tried to hide her surprise at the woman's candor. "I like to read. Take walks. I love old movies.”

"Aw, an old soul. You're not the type to take off with my best jewelry, are you?"

"Oh, no. Ma'am. I would never..."

"Please, quit calling me Ma'am. Makes me feel like an old woman. Oh, hell I am an old woman."

Nancy couldn't suppress a grin and Mrs. Worth held hers, barely. She was engaging in a little tease. "You may call me Delia. That's if I decide to hire you."

"Of course."

"I assume you have references."

She had two. Mrs. Worth scanned them. "Fred Belding, Poor Freddy. You were his caretaker, then. He speaks highly of you."

"I didn't know he'd written that letter. His sister found it in his papers. You knew him?"

“In another time. So tell me. Why is a lovely looking, smart girl like yourself wanting to be a companion to an old lady? Surely you can find something -- more suitable. Or perhaps you should be in university. What are you? Eighteen?"

"Twenty-two. I've never been terribly comfortable with people my own age. After the death of my parents in the pandemic, I was raised by an elderly aunt who is also gone now. She loved the old movies too; we would watch them together. I enjoyed her company and that of her friends. And I like to help people who may not be as physically strong and agile as they once were.”

“Is there a boyfriend?”

“No. I find boys my own age rather silly."

Delia Worth grew thoughtful, then reached for her cane beside her, transferred the shawl from her knees to her shoulders, and rose shakily to her feet. Nancy had a natural urge to help, but feared being thought presumptuous."

"Richard," Mrs. Worth called into the other room. "I don't think we need look further."

Nancy's heartbeat kicked up a notch. Was it possible? Did she have the job? Was she going to live in this beautiful house -- the house she'd dreamed of as a child -- and be companion to this elegant lady. She felt like she was floating a few feet above the carpet.

The lawyer stood in the doorway, his smile including them both. "You've obviously made an impression, Miss Meadows." He turned his attention to Mrs. Worth. "Your niece is here, Delia," he said softly. Before he put period to the sentence, a woman swep into the room with barely a glance at Nancy. She kissed her aunt's cheek lightly. Nancy took in the taupe linen dress, the highlighted hair. Sea green Gucci sandals and bag, (the brass double G's visible) completed the ensemble. Nancy felt drab by comparison; the pearls didn't seem quite so smart somehow.

"Who are you bringing into the house now, dear Auntie. You're quite vulnerable, you know, and they're all kinds of lowlife out there, willing to scam an old lady. "No offense," she said to Nancy, whose face had caught fire.

“I'm sorry, Nancy,” Mrs. Worth said. “Bethany, that was unkind even for you. Nancy, you may begin tomorrow,” she said, smiling apologetically. “Molly, my cleaning lady will be here in the morning and she'll show you around. I sleep late mornings. If that's acceptable to you.”

“Yes, yes. Very acceptable. Thank you, Mrs. Worth.”

“Delia. Remember?”

“Thank you ...Delia.”

On her way out, Nancy heard Mrs. Worth chastise gently, "Who I bring into this house is my affair, Bethany dear. I've been handling my own affairs for a lifetime now. I'm sure I'll be fine. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure, darling? Haven't seen you in a while."

"Can't I check up on my favorite aunt without being suspect? I had my Tarot cards read yesterday and she said I'm coming into a lot of money.”

“Really? So when am I to die?”

“Oh, Aunt Delia, you're terrible.” She trilled a laugh that scraped along Nancy's nerves.

Early the next morning Nancy arrived with two battered suitcases and was met at the door by a jolly-faced woman who was presently wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "You're Nancy," she smiled, slinging the dishtowel over her shoulder and extending a warm hand. "Ma'am said I was to put the coffee on and it's just finished perking. There are eggs or cereal, whatever..."

“I've already eaten, thank you. Bur I'd love a coffee.”

"All right, then. I'm Molly, by-the-by. Molly Inman. I come twice a week to clean. When you're finished your coffee, I'll give you the grand tour."

Her bedroom was upstairs, third on the right. It was a spacious room, flooded with light pouring in through the tall window facing onto the lawn. The room had its own small fireplace and a bed the size of a raft. Feeling like she had tumbled into a fairytale, she unpacked her few things and went down into the well-equipped kitchen.

Having prepared a vegetable soup for lunch and a light salad, apple strudel for dessert, she carried the tray into her new employer, who removed her glasses and set down the book she'd been reading and drew the folding table close to her.

“Ah," she said, smiling her approval. "I could smell the hot apple and cinnamon from the kitchen. My favorite. But you don't have to go to such trouble, dear. I've always been a light eater, conscious of my weight, you see. A piece of toast and tea is generally what I take for lunch. Not that it matters now, but eating light has kept me trim and reasonably healthy at ninety-two. Along with dancing."

"You were a dancer?”

Delia Worth brightened. "Once a dancer, always a dancer, my dear. I was dancing right up until my 90th birthday, for myself only, of course. Until I slipped on the icy step outside and broke my hip.”

“I'm so sorry.”

“Me too.”

“You look like a dancer. You're still beautiful.”

“You're very kind, Nancy. Though I must confess I was paid a similar compliment by a count once, and also a prince, as I recall. He had terrible table manners. But he was very rich. He bought me expensive gifts, perfume. Chanel No. 5. It's still my favorite. I was quite a dish back then."

"Yes, I can see that. You're regal, yet earthy."

"You have a way with words, Nancy Meadows."

"I read a lot.”

"We have that in common. Although I didn't take to books until I was much older.”

"Would it be rude of me to ask if your – husband's passed?" Nancy asked timidly.

“Or if I'm divorced? Yes, it would, but I'll answer. I only ever loved one man and I married him. His name was Stephen – Stephen Crane, like the man who wrote The Red Badge of Courage. Ironically, he died in the war."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry."

"It's fine. A long time ago. What about you? Despite finding boys your own age silly, I'm sure you've dated at some point?"

"I did. Briefly. It didn't work out.”

"Relationships often don't. Better to think of your future on your own terms. Along with Richard's investment brilliance, I have my career as a dancer to thank for the comfortable life I have at my advanced age. For this house."

“Really?”

“Yes. Exotic dancing. You might as well know. I wanted to be on the legitimate stage, but it was not to be. It was the depression, you see, times were tough. A lot of the girls I worked with had other dreams - actresses, singers, even ballerinas - but you made do. If you wanted to eat.” She laughed and Nancy heard a bitter note in the laugh that told her all Delia's memories weren't so rosy.

“Not everyone called it exotic dancing,” she said, a little defensively. “I was also called a stripper, as my niece likes to remind me. As did my brother when he was alive. But we were never cheap or vulgar, not like the girls now. We were ladies. Always well spoken, well turned out. It's all about stirring the imagination of your audience, not baring it all. There's no mystery there. I never did the bump and grind routine. The good ones didn't have to. You must have heard of Gypsy Rose Lee."

"Yes, of course."

"She and I were good friends at one time. She died young. 59, seems very young to me now. She was so vital. I learned a lot from Gyp. As no doubt, you did from your aunt and her friends. Different things, of course."

Nancy found herself sitting beside her employer on the divan, without being aware of making the move. "Very different, I'm sure. She must have been really something."

"Gypsy? Yes, she was. Her real name was Rose Louise Hovic. She was witty and smart. I didn't have her gift of gab, but I did all right. Those were the times; we partied with famous actors like Spencer Tracy, big-name politicians, art dealers. I met Artie Shaw. He was a big celebrity bandleader. He was married for a time to Betty Grable at one time. He treated her lousy, we all knew about it. At least we heard about it. Do you like to dance, Nancy?"

“I love it. Though I haven't danced much, mainly in my bedroom with no one watching.”

“You have wonderful posture and you move like a dancer. I used to take a lot of the new girls under my wing: I could teach you. Would you like that?”

"I – don't know. I don't think...”

“It could be fun. And a great way to stay in shape. Give it some thought. Would you like to see some photos – of that time..."

"Oh, yes, please. I'd be honored."

"They're in the studio, in the closet. Right through there. She gestured to the other set of french doors, which Nancy had assumed led to Delia's private washroom. "Don't be confused by the wall mirrors and ballet barre in there. There was a time when I planned to teach dance, but it never came to fruition. I took tap and ballet as a child, you know. There's an old record player and a few LP's in there as well, dear."

She was met with an expanse of gleaming hardwood floors, their golden hue reflected in the wall of mirrors at the back and side of the room. She crossed to the dressing room which was complete with a walk-in closet, makeup mirror with lights, posh washroom facilities including a large shower. All seemed to be waiting to fulfill its intended purpose.

Over the next couple of weeks, Nancy entered into an alternate world as she perused the many photos in album after album. The early ones in black and white, later in vivid color, with a running commentary from Delia. Newspaper clippings, posters celebrated the stunning and steamy, 'Delilah', Delia's stage name.

Through her imagination, Nancy lost herself in smoky rooms filled with throbbing, thumping music, enthusiastic audiences.

Delia taught her some basic moves in exotic dancing. And as they grew closer, the stories never lost their thrill for her, though some of her stories gradually grew darker.

"It wasn't all good times and glamour," she told her once and Nancy knew the admission didn't come easy. She spoke of nights when some man would hurl ugly insults or reach for her like she was a piece of meat on a hook.

"There was one club manager, Minsky's I think it was,” she said, “who decided he didn't want to pay me. A short, fat little creep name Fritz. I don't remember his last name. I threatened to have the place closed down if he didn't give me my money. It got ugly. You absorb a lot and some you block out. But it seeps through..You oughta know about that too. But I guess I needn't worry about painting too rosy a picture for you; it's not like you're going to tread my path. Burlesque is dead and gone."

"It's different, to be sure.” Nancy been sheltered but she wasn't stupid. "They were nasty men and I'm sorry you experienced that. But I love hearing these stories, Delia, the good and the not so good. It all made you the person you are now, which is pretty wonderful, in my opinion. You look tired, Delia. Let's get you over to your chair and I'll make up your bed.”

“You're sweet. Anyway, no one ever wants to hear these old tales so it's nice to have someone to tell them to.”

Settled beneath the blankets, Delia asked, “What about you, Nancy? What is your dream?”

“I'm living it.” She fluffed a pillow, cupped Delia's head, and slid it under. “Being here, being your companion, it's everything.” She picked up a loose photo that had fallen out of the album, and admired it. “You really were gorgeous, Delia.”

Delia smiled, looking at the photo in Nancy's hand. “You're good for my flailing ego. Actually, you remind me a little of myself back then. Willowy. Long dark hair, those blue bedroom eyes. Take a look in the closet and pick yourself out a couple of my old gowns."

"Oh, no I couldn't..."

"Of course you can. I'll be your tutor, you'll be my muse. I'll dance vicariously through you. Would you refuse an old lady the pleasure?”

Nancy knew it was emotional blackmail, and Delia's grin told her she wasn't oblivious to the fact.

***

The black silk gown flowed over Nancy's skin like cool water and Delilah's dance shoes fit like Cinderella's glass slippers. She smiled at her fanciful self in the mirror. Her aunt, who'd been very religious and thought dance was the devil's work, would have been shocked to see her now.

Delia was most complimentary. “You look stunning, dear. “ Then she added in almost a whisper. “Bethany must never know about this.”

Her niece visited often. She was always pleasant, but Nancy didn't trust the smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, and would make herself scarce when she was around.

Once, passing the door, she overheard Delia say, her voice lowered. "I don't know what you have against Nancy, Bethany. Actually, we get on well. She's a lovely young woman and she plays a mean game of scrabble. Unlike you,” she half-teased, “who looks like she's having teeth pulled to sit through a game. And then you throw the game just to get it over with."

"I might sue for alienation of affection." Bethany chuckled to show she was kidding, but it left Nancy with an uneasy feeling. When the door closed behind her, Nancy got ready for her dance lesson.


“Put the album on, darling. It was “The Entertainer” and Delia's face lit up as the music began to play. Nancy swayed to the rhythm. At first, she felt awkward and self-conscious, but gradually she began to lose herself to the music.

"Yes, that's it. Feel the beat enter your body, give yourself to it. You own the stage, Nancy. Not so fast,” she directed. “Slower, subtle, giving just a hint of your mystery. Your power. Strike an attitude. A little naughty, a little haughty. .. ah, yes, much better.”

It was 1940, the room is smoke-filled, ringing laughter and applause. Glasses tinkled -- and the music played. The photographs in the album came alive in her alternate world.

Enough. Turn it off. “

Nancy had been caught up in the moment, and now stood frozen, worried she had somehow displeased Delia. And then Delia cried, “Oh, these legs, these useless legs."

The next night Delia insisted she put on the gold lame. “I'm going to show you some great new moves."

"Delia, are you sure? I don't..."

"Yes, I'm sure. Forget last night. I was wallowing in self-pity. Mourning my lost youth.”

Nancy danced for Delia most every evening, taking in all her instruction and advice, but gradually putting her own stamp on the routines Delia taught her. Delia told her she was wonderful. "My family was embarrassed by what I did for a living. But my parents are gone long ago, my brother more recently, and I don't give a damn what my niece thinks. I supposed I've spoiled her, to my detriment. I often see the distain on her on her face when I refer to my dancing days. You know it's hard not to mention it ever: dancing was my whole life. And I was damn good at it."

"I know," Nancy said.

"You don't know anything,” she gently contradicted. “You're a baby."

"But I do. I almost feel like I went through it with you.”

"As much as I hate to say it, you're getting to be damn near as good as I was. Damn near, I said.” She smiled. "I see you're developing a style of your own. You were born to dance, Nancy. We'll have a glass of very fine wine later to celebrate your progress."

As the music began to play, the beat and throb of it filled the room, once more entering her body. She sashayed across the floor in Delia's high heels,shoulders back, proud, the way Delia and shown her.

One evening, in the midst of her performance, Richard came into the room. Startled, Nancy faltered, but Delia motioned her to continue, and after an awkward beat or two, she did. When she finished, they both applauded. Before leaving, Richard apologized to her for his intrusion, but Delia had invited him and told him to say nothing, and would not listen to his arguments against it. Nancy felt mildly betrayed, but only mildly. She was proud of her skills and knew her dancing had pleased him. More important, she had felt safe under his gaze, admired but not leered at. She liked Richard Preston. Liked his quiet strength, the warmth and intelligence in his eyes, the wry humor.

Later, alone in her room, the music continued to play in her head and Nancy twirled in front of the long mirror, revealing a long, shapely leg in the net stockings Delia had given her. Despite the 70 years that lie between them, Nancy and Delia had become best friends. They'd crossed generations to a deeper place inside both of them.

One afternoon during a visit from her niece, Nancy heard Bethany on the telephone. “I don't think that old lady is ever going to kick the bucket,” she half-whispered. “It's like she's got a new lease on life. The money is going to pay to keep her old bones alive. I love my aunt, but damn, Gerald, we could do so much with it.”

Nancy, stunned by what she'd heard, slipped out of sight. She knew she couldn't tell Delia; she'd be devastated. Or think I was just jealous. What about Richard? But what proof did she have. Only what she'd heard on the phone, and it wasn't as if they'd been planning her murder. And she'd said she loved Delia. Maybe I'm making too much of it.

On a snowy Monday morning just before Christmas, Nancy had been out doing some last minute shopping for Delia and upon returning, was met at the door by Bethany which surprised her, since Delia's niece generally visited in the afternoon. She'd been crying.

"My aunt passed away a short time ago, Nancy, while you were out – somewhere. We'll have no more need of your services."

Nancy stood outside the door, stunned at the news, unable to take in that Delia was dead. Gone from the world. That couldn't be. “But she was fine when I left her,” she stammered, the tears coming despite her efforts to retain her dignity. “She asked me to get -- I can't believe it. When? Where's Molly? What happened?” In shock, she was barely able to put a coherent sentence together. But then she remembered the phone call. Her Bethany done something to Delia?

Taking the bags from Nancy, she handed her an envelope. "We've paid you a month's severance. Though I can't really justify a letter of reference. I must admit you worked very hard to gain my aunt's trust. There are things missing, some jewelry, but we'll just let that go unless you force my hand. I knew what you were the minute I laid eyes on you." She reached behind her and brought out Nancy's suitcases.

Nancy swallowed hard. "I'm not a thief. And I don't require a reference from you, Bethany. It would mean nothing. She picked up her suitcases and turned to leave, heard the door close behind her.

Blinded by tears, she practically stumbled into Richard coming up the snow-covered walk.

"Nancy, I just got the call. I knew you'd be devastated, I am myself, dear. Let's go back inside..."

"No. Bethany just gave me my severance pay and told me I'm no longer needed. When did Delia die? She was fine when I left this morning. Molly was with her. How did everything happen -- so fast, Richard." She broke into sobs and Richard held her until they subsided.

"She had a massive stroke, dear. Let's be glad it took her. She wouldn't have wanted to spend whatever time she had left, unable to speak, perhaps even to think.” He glared at the front door, anger in those warm eyes. “I'm sorry about Bethany. She's a spoiled, selfish woman. But not to worry, Between us, Delia left her amazing dancing student well taken care of. Wipe your eyes. It'll all be fine.”

He removed a crisp white handkerchief from his suit jacket breast pocket and took her suitcases from her. “Let's go sit on the bench over there for a minute or two.” He brushed the snow off the seat with his sleeve. “When we leave here, we'll book you into a hotel room for the time being.”

"Delia was one of the kindest people I ever knew. She's already given me so much.” She glanced over her shoulder. “She loved that house, Richard. She was proud of it. I can't bear the thought of its being torn apart and changed. It would lose its own heart."

"I'm sorry. She wanted to leave you the house, you know, but Bethany would have fought you in court for it and won. You were with Delia less than a year, merely an employee, as far as the law is concerned. Delia's considerable bequest to you will assuredly irk, but I don't think she'll complain too loudly. She's already fixing to move into the home. But you'll have enough money to buy yourself a place of your own if you choose, perhaps in a similar style..."

I want to keep the house for Delia.

The following day, at the reading of the Will, Molly Inman sat sniffing and wiping her tears. She wouldn't need to clean anyone's house for the rest of her life, unless she wanted to, which was unlikely.

Delia's wealth went far beyond what Nancy could have imagined. As far as Bethany harming her aunt, Molly said she and Bethany were together in the kitchen when they both heard the thump and ran to see Delia on the floor, unconscious, and called 911.

Bethany had not looked at Nancy during the entire proceedings, but Nancy felt her fury from across the room. Her husband sat beside her, a seemingly amused expression on his face. Nancy thought there was something smarmy about him.

Later that day, sitting across from Richard in a small cafe, she asked, already knowing the answer, "Do I have enough money to buy the house from Bethany?"

“Yes. But she wouldn't sell it to you, Nancy. You know that."

She doesn't love the house as I do, Nancy thought. The house was like a friend that someone was threatening to disfigure. She needed to let go, but how could she?

Richard reached across the table and thumbed an errant tear from her cheek. For some time Nancy had sensed his attraction to her and it surprised her how much she liked and trusted him. Perhaps in part because Delia did. But she knew it was more than that.

"I do know that Bethany's planning to come to the house on Tuesday night and staying over,” Richard said. “She wants to get the feel of the place. I'm guessing the dance studio will be the first to go."

The very thought of its destruction brought a wrenching, almost physical pain to her heart.

“I still can't believe she's gone, Richard. Without any warning at all.”

“She was old, Nancy.”

“No, she wasn't. She was the youngest person I ever knew."

“She was 92, darling, soon to be 93. We don't get to live forever. Nancy, you've given her more in these last months than you realize. You let her live again. Truly live.”

“I hope so.”

“It's true. She'd come to love you like a daughter. Perhaps that's why she sent you on those errands. She didn't want you to be the one to find her. As for Bethany's eagerness to dismantle the dance studio, it's almost as if it offends her,” Richard said, more to himself than to Nancy.

There had to be a way to save it.


It was well after midnight as she lay in a bed in a hotel room that a vague idea began to take shape in her mind. By morning, the plan was solidified. It might not work, but she had little to lose.

On Tuesday night, long before Bethany arrived at the house, Nancy used the key Delia had given her to let herself inside. Going straight to the dance studio, she placed candles strategically around the room, creating an eerie ambiance in the otherwise darkened space. But she was counting on Bethany's own imagination to supply the crucial ingredient. She recalled the Tarot cards Bethany believed in. Wiping clammy hands on her jeans, she changed into the gold lame dress still hanging in Delia's closet. She checked her make-up which she'd applied with great care, brushed her hair loose, letting it fall to her shoulders.

Everything ready, she waited, pacing, double-checking that she had thought of everything. It was coming onto darkness when she finally heard the key in the lock and the front door open.

Please let this work.

 

She stepped back into the deepening shadows.

 

Bethany's heels clicked on the stretches of hardwood between the carpets, growing sharper as she entered the library, then falling silent. Nancy let out a breath and dropped the needle into the familiar groove of the old record player. The first strains of music began to play. She'd chosen The Stripper by David Rose, slightly tinny from wear, volume down so that it played ever so softly, as if coming through a rent in time... as the beat of the drums, the blare of horns work their magic...Bwaaa na naaaaa, bwaaa na naaaaa…

Bwaaa na naaaaa, BWAA NA NAAAAA Naaa ...

The dancer began to sway ...


The french doors flew open, causing the candle flames to flicker in the sudden draft, multiplying themselves in the mirrored walls. The fiery circle embraced the ghostly dancer in her shimmery dress, throwing the rest of the room into darkness.

 

Bethany stood frozen in the doorway, eyes wide, her face cast in horror at the sight of her Aunt Delia in her younger days moving barely perceptibly. The dancer smiled at the paralyzed spectator, reached out to her with pale spectral hands.

A blood-curdling scream broke from Bethany as she whirled and fled the room, and seconds later, the house, the front door slamming against the wall in her wake.

Richard showed only mild surprise when Bethany phoned him the following day and directed him to put the house on the market, that she'd changed her mind. Nancy was elated and Richard set up the sale of the house so that Bethany would never know the real name of the purchaser. Only three months later, she and Richard were quietly married and Nancy had never been happier.

It was the last time she saw Delia's niece until today. She's been walking down the walkway on her way to her dance lesson. In the same moment, Bethany drove past the house and seeing her, suddenly braked. Nancy hesitated on the walkway. Their eyes locked for a long moment before Bethany sped off.

Nancy continued on to her lesson.

She'd been taking modern dance at the Dance Academy across town for the last several months and loved every minute of it. Striving for excellence was exhausting, but joyful work. Come next fall she would have her certification to teach young people in her own home. A degree in dance was also in her plans. She had no taste for performance except for her own pleasure, and to demonstrate routines for her students. And maybe dance for her husband, on occasion. She would carry on Delia's dream, while also making it her own.

They were in the library and Richard was working on a brief. Nancy sensed Delia's presence, she could almost smell her perfume. Chanel No. 5.

"Bethany looked like she saw a ghost," she told Richard, who knew nothing about her little ruse. Or so she thought until he looked up from his laptop and said quietly: "Strange how it all worked out, isn't it? Delia always said you were a smart girl. "Almost as if Delia had planned it herself," he said, with a trace of a smile.

 

 

#