Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Command Performance

The following morning Aunt Cordelia called Tula and 'suggested' that she come to her home to join her for lunch later that day. Tula was not enthused, but knew better than refuse. It was never good when Aunt Cordelia invited her to anything, especially her house. 

Tula showed up at noon. Pearl answered the door, " 'Miss' Tula, come on in. I think 'Miss' Cordelia is expecting you."

"Why thank you Pearl," Tula said. She then walked right past Pearl as Pearl stood holding the door open.  Pearl just shook her head. She expected no less from Tula. 

Aunt Cordelia was waiting for her in the morning room. Tula walked up to her aunt and kissed her on her cheek. "You look well," Tula said as she sat down.

"I should hope so, I feel better than ever."

Great, thought Tula, she is in 'that' type of mood. "And what did I do to deserve an invitation to lunch?"

Before Cordelia could say anything, Pearl walked up, "Would you like tea, coffee, water, or lemonade?"

Tula replied cheekily,"A martini, please."

With a warm smile, Aunt Cordelia looked at Pearl, "We'll both have sweet tea, thank you."

Tula was already irritated and the meal had not even been served. She hated being summoned to Cordelia's house. God, if only the old woman had only died when they had that 'scare' weeks ago.

"Darling Tula," Cordelia said as she buttered one of Pearl's warm biscuits and placed it on her bread plate. "I'm a bit concerned about you."

"Me? I'm quite well," Tula replied taking a biscuit from the basket Cordelia had just passed her.

"Oh, you seem to be in fine form," Cordelia took a small bit of her biscuit and wiped her lips with her linen napkin. "However, it seems, as always, you are leaving a wake of destruction." 

"Whatever are you talking about?"

Looking straight at her, Cordelia asked, "How is Burdell?"

"Fine, I assume. I haven't seen him this week. Last time I visited with him, he seemed to be in fine form."

"Really?" At that time Pearl placed a plate of chicken salad and fresh fruit at each lady's place. "Thank you Pearl." Cordelia continued, as she put pepper on her salad, "And, when was that?"

"Oh, I'm not sure. I try to visit with him every week or so?" Tula said as she busied herself with her meal. If she could keep her mouth full, she could, at least politely, only answer so many questions.

"Well Tula, Burdell is missing. He is no longer at that disgusting place - that Bay Minette Midsummer Sanatorium." Cordelia raised her voice, "You take his money and then do not have the decency to make sure he is in a safe facility, being cared for in the manner for which he is accustomed? Honestly, even I did not think you could stoop that low."

Tula looked stunned. "Missing? Uncle Burdell? What happened? How do you know this and no one told me?"

"I'm not sure. But I find that very curious." Cordelia just stared at her. "Don't you?" She paused, "Where is he?"

Tula stammered, "Aunt Cordelia, honestly, I do not know. He was in the Sanatorium. It was a good place, had excellent reviews. He was happy."

Cordelia stopped eating,"Please don't lie to me Tula. Have you even been to that God forsaken place? She threw her napkin down on the table beside her plate. "You listen to me. I want to know where Burdell is? This is your doing and your responsibility. Do you hear me, young lady?"

"He's in the Sanatorium, I swear."

"Well then he's in a world of hurt because the State of Alabama condemned the place days ago. It's empty - closed. They rescued all the poor souls who were there. And guess who was not among the patients they found?"

Tula just stared at Cordelia.

"Just guess?" asked Cordelia.

"Please don't tell me Uncle Burdell."

"That would be correct. Your Uncle Burdell was not there when the place was condemned. In fact he had not been there for a while. You took his money and put him away, out of mind, out of sight. Are you happy?"

"But, but, Bunny was visiting him also. She told me she was."

"She was trying to visit him. Conveniently, he was never 'available' when she went to see him. However, the poor dear was assured by you that everything was OK, because you were seeing him."

"Well, ask the staff of the Sanatorium. Certainly they should know. Maybe he just left on his own. He always has been the independent type."

"I would, however they have all skipped town, just ahead of the law." Cordelia looked at Tula with disgust. "It was bad enough for you to abandon your child because it didn't suit your lifestyle - just deny she existed. Another case of out of sight, out of mind." Cordelia stood up. "Get out of my house. And I want to know where Burdell is."

Tula, totally stunned with this news, stood up and left without saying anything. For once in her life she was speechless. How did she know where Uncle Burdell was? He was supposed to be in Bay Minette. That is why she was sending them that exorbitant amount of money every month. It had cost her a fortune - for what?

Totally put out with her niece, Cordelia decided she needed to do something pleasant. She called Bunny, "Dear, I was thinking if you and Vivian are free this afternoon, why not meet me at the Tea Room after you get off work for a cordial or a glass of wine."

"Oh, that would be nice. I'll ask Vivian, but you can count on me."

"Make sure you invite Della, I do not want to leave her out."

Bunny assured Aunt Cordelia she would. They rang off.

Around 4:30, Cordelia made her way down to the Tea Room. Caroline sat her at her favorite table. Cordelia told her she was expecting others to join her. Grice walked over with a glass of Cordelia's favorite port. Blanche came over and spoke.

"Oh dear, please take a seat. I never get to talk with you any more."

"Well, we are so busy." Blanche laughed, "But, don't get me wrong I love it. This is has been so much fun. Caroline, Hattie, and I are having a blast."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it." As Cordelia said that Bunny, Della, and Vivian walked in. Cordelia spotted them, "There they are, my partners in crime."

"I'll leave this to you and Grice. Enjoy!"

"We always do."

The girls sat down at Cordelia's table, Grice came over, and they each ordered a glass of wine. Before Grice left the table, Cordelia asked, "Dear, could you bring us a plate of Hattie's divine cheese straws."

"I'll be glad to. Anything else?"

"Just keep the glasses full." Everyone laughed.

Cordelia looked at the group,"Well, how's Trick's?"

They chimed in with all the scoop and chatted about. It was quite the hen party. Cordelia asked Della about Sam. And, with a twinkle in her eye, asked Bunny about Mike.

Just then 'Miss' Ella and Rayanne walked in. Both Della and Bunny excused themselves for moment to go speak to the ladies. They always enjoyed the older ladies' company. Ella and Rayanne were not just fun, they always seemed to know what was going on before most of Gallagher did.

Cordelia turned to Vivian. "We have not had enough time together." Cordelia sighed. "Sweetheart, I know you cannot change who your mother is. But we are all family. I am so glad you are here."

"So am I," said Vivian. "You know I moved here because it was the only place I knew of as home. Not because it was my home, but my relatives' favorite childhood stories were all from Gallagher. I had no idea there would still be family here, much less that I would find a half-sister." She looked across the room at Bunny and smiled.

"The world works in strange ways," said Cordelia as she took another sip of her port.

"I do miss the children though."

"How are they doing?" asked Cordelia.

"Harvey says they have settled down and getting into a routine. He and Lauralie are thrilled. Harvey said he has never seen Lauralie so happy and so tired."

"Well, both James and Harvey were always good boys. James would be very happy that Harvey and Lauralie adopted his children."

Vivian laughed, "I'm glad Harvey and Lauralie were so generous to open their home to them. If they had stayed with me, we would have figured it out. But, honestly, I don't think I'm cut out for motherhood yet."

Bunny and Della came back to the table. They sat quietly listening to Cordelia and Vivian.

Cordelia, just continued he conversation with Vivian. She smiled that warm smile everyone found so reassuring, "I am sure you would have risen to the task. Your time will come."

As she said this, over Vivian's shoulder, Cordelia noticed a lady at the hostess stand, speaking with Blanche. Speaking to no one in particular, she said, "What a lovely lady, I don't think I know her."

Bunny put her glass down. "Oh, that is Colleen Cantrell. She just moved here."

"And, Haynes Duiese is sweet on her," said Della. "As in smitten, according to Parker." Della and Bunny laughed.

"Has she been here long?" asked Cordelia still watching Colleen over Vivian's shoulder.

"Several weeks," said Della, "Want to meet her?"

Cordelia said she did. Della got up from the table and walked over to the front. "Colleen, I'm Della, Della Lee. How are you?"

"Oh, Della, it's so nice to see you. Thank you so much for giving me Haynes' number."

"Have you spoken with him yet."

Colleen smiled, "He had me over to his house Friday evening, he was having a few friends for dinner. You were right, he is a dear."

"Think you'll see more of him?"

"I hope so," Colleen said with a small laugh.

"There is is someone over here I would like you to meet - Cordelia Wells. We all call her Aunt Cordelia. She is the Grand Dame of Gallagher, although she would argue with anyone who told her that."

Colleen followed Della over to the table where they all were sitting. "Colleen, I'd like you to meet Cordelia Wells. Aunt Cordelia, this is Colleen Cantrell."

Cordelia invited her to join them but Colleen declined. She said she had just stopped by the Tea Room to speak with Blanche. They all spoke for a minute or two before Colleen said, " 'Miss' Cordelia it is so nice to meet you." She turned to Della and smiled. "Hopefully I'll see y'all about. If you will excuse me, I have errands I need to do."

They all said their goodbyes and Colleen walked away.

Bunny looked at Cordelia,"Isn't she one of the most beautiful women you have ever seen. And, the way she dresses. It's like she just stepped out of one of those fashion magazines."

As Cordelia watched Colleen walk off, she said very slowly, "Yes, I agree, she is very striking. But, for some reason, she seems so familiar." Then Cordelia turned back to the group. "Have any of you tried port?" When they all replied they had not, Cordelia called Grice over and ordered a round for everyone. "It is divine. But you must sip it slowly." Cordelia smiled, "I find it goes very well with good friends and nice conversation.

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