Tonight was Charlotte’s turn to host the monthly SIS group. She had fully recovered from the accident from a few weeks before. She patted her tummy happily. She was still pregnant and ecstatic. Her thick, straight chestnut hair cascaded several inches past her shoulders. She looked and felt younger than her 42 years. She moved quickly but gracefully through the kitchen and great room preparing for the arrival of her guests.
Hospitality was Charlotte’s middle name. Literally. Names were very important to her parents. A name, they said, should reflect family history while at the same time, be attuned to the current culture. Charlotte’s middle name, Ksenia, means hospitable in Polish. It was a family name on her mother’s side, whose Polish ancestor fought the British in the Carolinas during the American Revolution, and settled in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her great grandmother had been named Ksenia– a nod to the south’s reputation for hospitality.
Charlotte was raised in Oxford, Mississippi where hospitality was also very much a part of the culture, especially in small towns. Her daddy was an English professor there and Charlotte and her sister were both graduates of Ole Miss.
Charlotte didn’t get into Ole Miss right out of high school. Against her parents’ advice, she chose to come to California to attend CCC—Coast Community College in Southern California for two years. She loved her time in Southern California, but went back to Oxford when she was accepted as a junior at Ole Miss.
She was drawn to Southern California again when UCLA accepted her into their Masters in Education program—reportedly, the best in the country. She met another Southerner in the UCLA program, Jebediah, and they were married in her parents’ backyard three months after they received their master’s degrees. Loving the California lifestyle, they decided to return to California after the wedding. They found teaching jobs in the Los Angeles area, and settled in St. Michael’s Cove, when the home prices were still affordable on teachers’ salaries. She and Jeb lived in one of the canyons of the Santa Monica mountains, which formed the western border of St. Michael’s Cove.
Moving through the first floor of the house, Charlotte checked to make sure there were clean guest towels in the powder room, then fluffed and arranged the velvet sofa pillows, and folded the afghan neatly over the arm of the sofa. She lit a tangerine scented candle on the mantle, and went into the kitchen to put the tea kettle on.
She was looking forward to seeing all of her sisters from the SIS group.
Rebecca, or Crystal, as she now called herself, had been a member until a few years ago. She had contributed a quilt block for local Center of Peace and Fellowship –but she still kept in touch with the group from time to time.
Charlotte belonged to the Methodist church.
Jackie, 52, with short dark wiry hair with wisps of grey, was a fabric artist and expert crocheter who belonged to the local orthodox Jewish congregation.
She was a 4’11” athletic dynamo, built like a fire plug, and adept at coming to the rescue of anyone needing rescuing—from homeless teenagers to abandoned dogs and cats.
Caroline was an Episcopalian, and at 59, she was the oldest member of the group. She was an Amazon-like woman, a tall brunette with long, muscular limbs—the result of her dedication to tennis for almost 50 years, which explained why she still wore sleeveless tops and dresses and looked great in shorts. She had three grown children who all lived out of state.
Alison was from the Christ the King Catholic church where Liz’s boys attended school. A petite, fine-boned woman with chocolate brown skin, Alison was born and raised in the “Projects” in Detroit by a single mother. The mother of three, Alison still wore a size 2. She worked with Liz, and was one of the best trial lawyers in the City Attorney’s office. She was a tiny powerhouse with political aspirations. She was also an enthusiastic crafter—she could make anything she set her mind to. She even made the furniture for her first apartment after graduating from law school.
Denise Wang, M.D., 48, belonged to the Presbyterian church. She was a 3rd generation Korean-American raised in San Francisco in a family of medical doctors. A product of public schools through high school, Denise did her undergraduate work in Chemistry at MIT, and medical school at Johns Hopkins. She was in the process of through a divorce. She had a son, 16 and a daughter, 18.
And there was Liz from Hope Lutheran Chapel. They were all original contributors to the 2001 quilt.
Charlotte had just finished placing most of the cookies on the doily lined cookie plate when the doorbell rang. The wind was howling. She looked outside—the water in the pool was rippling.
Charlotte opened the door, but lost control of the handle when it flew open with what seemed to be a gale force wind. The door just missed hitting her in the face. “My goodness gracious,” she exclaimed. “I had no idea that the wind had kicked up so! I love living in the canyon, but when the wind funnels through it gets stronger than all get out.”
She motioned Denise and Liz inside and slammed the door shut before turning to hug them both in turn.
“Jeb, hon,” she called to her husband in the adjacent den. “Could you see to the door when the others arrive? That door is a bit much for me in this wind.”
Moments later the three were in the kitchen and were sipping tea, nibbling on cookies, and chatting as the other members of SIS, or Sisters in Suffering, arrived.
The motto the group had adopted was memorialized on a hand painted white porcelain plaque above the arched entry to the kitchen. It read, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.”
Charlotte’s kitchen was a favorite gathering place, with its marble-like quartz countertops that also covered the backsplash, the island with its attached eating table, and small desk area. The kitchen sported an eight burner Viking cooktop, double ovens, walk-in pantry, and two sinks.
Hoping to fill the kitchen table with children, she had remodeled the kitchen twelve years ago with a bequest from her grandmother.
Charlotte loved the kitchen’s clean white spaces, the simple shaker cabinets, and the convenience of cooking in the well-appointed kitchen, but she had been raised to not call attention to material things. Her mother had cooked delicious meals for her family in a small red and yellow tiled 50’s era galley kitchen.
To Charlotte, her kitchen was simply a place to cook delicious healthy food and to connect with friends. It was a place to build relationships. And hopefully, soon there would be a child sitting down to breakfast with her and Jeb. Her heart quickened at the thought that she may actually be having a baby. Her kitchen table was also the place where she met God most mornings.
All of the ladies had brought their projects to work on during the evening. They were just about to move into the living room to get settled when the phone rang. Jeb answered, and called out to Charlotte to pick it the phone. As she reached for the phone in the kitchen, Charlotte motioned for the others to take their tea and to get settled in the living room.
“Hi Crystal, how are you, hon?” she asked.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that. When did he pass away? How old was he?
Yes, of course. Actually, the group is here tonight. I’ll let them know.
She paused to listen to Crystal for a few minutes.
Is Dex with you? He’s not? What happened?
When did he leave?
Weren’t you going to couples therapy? Yes, I understand. . .
“I need to go, now hon, but I’ll bring you over one of my vegetarian lasagna casseroles from the freezer tomorrow so you don’t have to cook. Let me know if you need someone to talk to.”
Charlotte turned to acknowledge Alison, who had entered the kitchen to pour more hot water for her tea.
“Alright, then. I’ll let everyone know. Listen, you take care now, ok? Bye, now“
“Crystal?” Alison asked.Charlotte nodded. “Yep. Max died, and Dexter left her.”
To be continued . . .