Chapter 14

Hair is serious business in Houston. It amazed me how much people were willing to pay for the services at Salon One. Being blond, in particular, was a serious investment of time and money, and Salon One gave women the best color of their lives. The salon was known for a tricolor blond that was so good, women would fly in from out of state for it. There was always a waiting list for any of the stylists, but for the head stylist and part-owner, Zenko, the wait was three months minimum.

Zenko was a small man with a powerful presence and the electric grace of a dancer. Although Zenko had been born and raised in Katy, he’d gone to England for an apprenticeship. When he returned, he had lost his first name and had gained an authentic-sounding British accent. Everyone loved that accent. We loved it even when he was yelling at one of us behind the scenes.

Zenko yelled a lot. He was a perfectionist, not to mention a genius. And when something wasn’t just the way he liked it, there were fireworks. But oh, what a business he had created. It had won Salon of the Year from magazines like Texas Monthly, Elle, and Glamour. Zenko himself had appeared in a documentary film about a famous actress. He’d been busy straightening her long red hair with a flat iron while she answered an interviewer’s questions. That documentary had boosted Zenko’s career, already thriving, into a white glare of fame known by few stylists. Now he had his own line of products, all packaged in glittering silver cans and bottles with star-shaped tops.

To me, the interior of Salon One looked like an English manor house, appointed with polished oak floors, antiques, and ceilings with medallions and hand-painted designs. When a client wanted coffee, it was served in bone china cups on a silver tray. If she wanted diet Coke, it was poured into tall glasses over Evian-water ice cubes. There was a large room with styling stations, and a few private rooms for celebrities and megawealthy clients, and a shampoo room filled with candlelight and classical music.

As an apprentice, I didn’t actually get to cut anyone’s hair for a year. I watched and learned, I did errands for Zenko, I brought refreshments to customers who wanted them, and sometimes I applied deep conditioning treatments with hot towels and swaths of foil. I gave manicures and hand massages to some clients while they waited for Zenko. The most fun was being enlisted to give pedicures to ladies who were having a spa day together. While the women chatted, the other pedicurist and I worked silently on their feet, and we got to hear the best and newest gossip.

They talked first about who’d had what done lately, and what needed to be done on themselves, and whether having Botox injected in your cheeks was worth giving up your smile. They talked about husbands briefly, and then it turned to the children, their private schools, their friends, their achievements and disorders. Many of the children were sent to psychotherapists to catalog all the little damages it does to a soul to have whatever you want whenever you want it. These things were so far removed from my life, it seemed we were from different planets. But then there were more familiar-sounding stories that reminded me of Carrington, and sometimes it was all I could do to keep from exclaiming, “Yes, that happened to my little sister too,” or “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

I kept my mouth shut, however, because Zenko had instructed all of us sternly that we must never, ever volunteer anything about our personal lives. Clients didn’t want to hear our opinions, he had warned, and they didn’t want to become friends. They came to Salon One to relax and be treated with absolute professionalism.

I heard a lot though. I knew which relatives were having arguments over who was monopolizing the family jet, who was suing whom over the management of trusts and estates, whose husband liked to go on canned hunts to shoot exotic game, where to go for the best custom-made chairs. I heard about scandals and successes, about the best parties, the favorite charities, and all the intricacies of leading a full-time social life.

I liked Houston women, who were funny and frank, and always interested in what was new and fashionable. Of course there were a few grand old ladies who insisted on having their hair permed, cut, and ratted into a big round ball, a style Zenko loathed and privately referred to as “the Drain Clog.” However, even Zenko wasn’t going to refuse these wives of multimillionaires who wore ashtray-sized diamonds on their fingers and could wear their hair any way they wanted.

The salon was also frequented by men of all shapes and sizes. Most were well dressed, with scrupulously maintained hair and skin and nails. Cowboy images to the contrary, Texan men are pretty fastidious about their appearance, everything scrubbed and clipped and strictly controlled. Before long I had assembled a clientele of regulars who came for lunch-hour manicures or neck and eyebrow trims. There were a few attempts at flirtation, especially from the younger ones, but Zenko had rules about that. And that was fine with me. At that time in my life I wasn’t interested in flirtation or romance. I wanted steady work and tip money.

A couple of the girls, including Angie, managed to keep part-time sugar daddies on the side. The arrangements were discreet enough that Zenko either didn’t notice or deliberately looked the other way. The agreement between an older, wealthier man and a younger woman didn’t appeal to me, but at the same time I was fascinated by it.

There is a subculture of sugar daddies and sugar babies in most big cities. The arrangement is by its very nature temporary. But both parties seem to like its impermanence, and there is a kind of safety in its unspoken rules. The relationship starts out with something casual like drinks or dinner, but if the girl plays it right, she can coax a sugar daddy into paying for things like tuition, vacations, clothes, even plastic surgery. According to Angie, the arrangement rarely involved the direct transfer of money. Cash scrubs the romantic veneer off the relationship. Sugar daddies prefer to think of it as a special friendship in which they provide gifts and help to a deserving young woman. And sugar babies convince themselves that a nice boyfriend should want to help out his girlfriend, and in return she would naturally want to show her appreciation by spending time with him.

“But what if you don’t want to sleep with him one night, and he’s just bought you a car?” I asked Angie skeptically. “You still sort of have to, don’t you? How is that different from being a—”

I caught myself as I saw the warning twitch of her mouth.

“It’s not all about sex,” Angie said tautly. “It’s about friendship. If you can’t understand that, I’m not going to waste my time trying to explain.”

I apologized immediately and said I was from a small town and didn’t always have a sophisticated understanding of things. Mollified, Angie forgave me. And she added that if I was smart, I’d get a generous boyfriend too, and it would help me achieve my goals a lot faster.

But I didn’t want trips to Cabo or Rio, or designer clothes, or the trappings of a luxe life. All I wanted was to honor the promises I had made to myself and Carrington. My modest ambitions included a good home, and the means to keep us both clothed and fed, and health insurance with a dental plan. I didn’t want any of that to come from a sugar daddy. The obligation of it, the gift-giving and sex dressed in the trappings of friendship…it was a road I knew I wouldn’t be able to negotiate well.

Too many potholes.

 

Among the important people who came to Salon One was Mr. Churchill Travis. If you’ve ever subscribed to Fortune magazine, or Forbes, or a similar publication, you know something about him. Unfortunately I had no clue who he was, since I had no interest in finance and never reached for Forbes unless I needed fly-swatting material.

One of the first things you noticed upon meeting Churchill was his voice, so low and gravelly you could almost feel it underfoot. He wasn’t a big man, medium height at most, and when he slouched you could have called him short. Except if Churchill Travis slouched, everyone else in the room did too. His build was lean but for a barrel chest and arms that were capable of straightening a horseshoe. Churchill was a man’s man, able to hold his liquor and shoot straight and negotiate like a gentleman. He’d worked hard for his money, paid just about every kind of dues there were.

Churchill was most comfortable around old-fashioned types like himself. He knew which areas of housework were men’s territory, and he knew which were women’s. The only time he ever went into a kitchen was to pour himself coffee. He was genuinely perplexed by men who took an interest in china patterns or ate alfalfa sprouts or sometimes contemplated their feminine sides. Churchill had no feminine side, and he would have taken a swing at anyone would might have dared to suggest otherwise.

Churchill’s first visit to Salon One happened around the time I started working there. One day the serenity of the salon was interrupted by a flurry of excitement, stylists murmuring, clients’ heads turning. I caught a glimpse of him—a thick ruff of steel-colored hair, dark gray suit—as he was guided to one of Zenko’s VIP rooms. He paused in the doorway, his gaze crossing the main room. His eyes were dark, the kind of brown that makes the irises nearly indistinguishable from the pupils. He was a good-looking old coot, but there was something off-beat about him, a hint of the eccentric.

Our gazes caught. He went still, his eyes narrowing as he stared at me intently. And then I had the curious feeling, nearly impossible to describe…a sort of pleasant catch deep in my chest, in a place words couldn’t reach. I felt soothed and relaxed and expectant, I could actually feel the tiny muscles in my forehead and jaw softening. I wanted to smile at him but before I could he had gone into the room with Zenko.

“Who was that?” I asked Angie, who was standing with me.

“Advanced-level sugar daddy,” she replied in an awed tone. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Churchill Travis.”

“I’ve heard of the Travises,” I replied. “They’re like the Basses in Fort Worth, right? Money people?”

“Honey, in the investment world Churchill Travis is Elvis. He’s on CNN all the time. He’s written books. He owns half of Houston, and he has yachts, jets, mansions…”

Even knowing Angie’s tendency toward hyperbole, I was impressed.

“…and the best part of all is, he’s a widower,” Angie finished. “His wife died not too long ago. Oh, I’m going to find a way to get in that room with him and Zenko. I’ve got to meet him! Did you see the way he just looked at me?”

That provoked a self-conscious laugh. I’d thought he was looking at me, but it had been Angie, it must have been, because she was blond and sexy and men adored her.

“Yes,” I said. “But would you really go after him? I thought you were happy with George.” George was Angie’s current sugar daddy, who had just given her a Cadillac Escalade. It was a loaner, but he’d said she could drive it as long as she wanted.

“Liberty, a smart sugar baby never misses an opportunity to trade up.” Angie sped to the makeup station to reapply eyeliner and lipstick, freshening her face in preparation to meet Churchill Travis.

I went to the cleaning closet and got out a broom to sweep up some hair clippings from the floor. Just as I got started, a stylist named Alan hurried over to me. He was trying to look calm, but his eyes were as big as silver dollars.

“Liberty,” he said in an urgent undertone, “Zenko wants you to bring a glass of iced tea for Mr. Travis. Strong tea, lots of ice, no lemon, two packets of sweetener. The blue packets. Bring it on a tray. Don’t fuck it up, or Zenko will kill us all.”

I was instantly alarmed. “Why me? Angie should bring it to him. He was looking at her. I’m sure she wants to do it. She—”

“He asked for you. ‘The dark-haired little girl,’ he said. Hurry, Liberty. Blue packets, blue.”

I went to prepare the tea as directed, stirring carefully to make certain every grain of sweetener was dissolved. I had filled the glass to the top with the most symmetrical ice cubes available. When I approached the VIP room, I had to balance the tray on one hand while I opened the door with the other. The ice jiggled dangerously in the glass. I wondered in desperation if a few drops had spilled.

Assuming an implacable smile, I entered the VIP room. Mr. Travis was seated in the chair, facing a huge gold-framed mirror. Zenko was describing possible variations on Mr. Travis’s current hairstyle, which was the standard businessman’s cut. I gathered Zenko was gently hinting that Mr. Travis should try something a little different, maybe allow him to texture and gel it at the top to update his look to something edgier.

I tried to deliver the tea as unobtrusively as possible, but those shrewd dark eyes locked onto me, and Travis turned in his chair to face me as he took the glass from the tray. “What’s your opinion?” he demanded. “Do you think I need updating?”

Considering my reply, I noticed that his teeth were slightly snaggled on the bottom row. As he smiled, it gave him the appearance of a fierce old lion inviting a cub to play. His eyes were warm in his craggy face, an umber glaze permanently seared into the top few layers of skin. Holding his gaze, I felt a small knot of delight form in my throat, and I swallowed it back.

I told him the truth. I couldn’t help it. “I think you’re edgy enough as it is,” I said. “Any more and you’d scare people.”

Zenko’s face went blank, and I was certain he was going to fire me on the spot.

Travis’s laugh sounded like a bag of rocks being shaken. “I’ll go by this young lady’s opinion,” he told Zenko. “Just take a half-inch off the top and taper the back and sides.” He continued to look at me. “What’s your name?”

“Liberty Jones.”

“Where’d you get that name? What part of Texas are you from? You one of the shampoo girls?”

I learned later that Churchill was in the habit of throwing questions out in twos and threes, and if you missed any of them, he repeated them.

“I was born in Liberty County, lived in Houston for a while, then grew up in Welcome. I’m not allowed to do shampoos yet, I’ve just started here and I’m apprenticing.”

“Not allowed to do shampoos,” Travis repeated, his heavy brows rising as if such a thing were absurd. “What in Sam Hill does an apprentice do?”

“I bring people iced tea.” I gave him my prettiest smile and began to leave.

“Stay right there,” came his command. “You can practice your shampooing on me.”

Zenko broke in, his expression hypercalm. His accent was more pronounced than usual, as if he’d just done lunch with Camilla and Charles. “Mr. Travis, this girl hasn’t finished her training. She isn’t qualified to shampoo anyone. However, we have highly trained stylists who will be helping you today, and—”

“How much training does it take to wash hair?” Travis asked incredulously. You could tell he wasn’t used to being denied anything, from anyone, for any reason. “You do your best, Miss Jones, and I won’t complain.”

“Liberty,” I said, returning to him. “And I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I do and you never come back to Salon One, everyone will assume I screwed up, and I don’t want that on my record.”

Travis scowled. I should have had the sense to be afraid of him. But the air between us was alive with a sense of playfulness. And a smile kept bobbing to my lips no matter how hard I tried to push it back.

“What else can you do besides bring tea?” Travis demanded.

“I could give you a manicure.”

He scoffed at the word. “Never had a manicure in my life. Why any man would need one I don’t know. Damn female thing to do.”

“I manicure lots of men.” I began to reach for his hand and hesitated. In the next moment I found his hand resting on mine, his palm down, my palm up. It was a strong, broad hand, one you could easily imagine gripping a horse’s reins or a shovel handle. The nails were clipped almost to the quick, the skin of his fingers nicked and pale-rusted. One of his thumbnails was permanently ridged from some long-ago injury. Gently turning his hand over in mine, I saw his palm was webbed with so many lines, it would have made a fortune-teller stutter. “You could use some work, Mr. Travis. Especially on the cuticles.”

“Call me Churchill.” He pronounced it without the i, so it sounded like “Church’ll.” “Go get your stuff.”

Since keeping Churchill Travis happy had become the modus operandi of the day, I had to ask Angie to take over my duties, which included floor-sweeping and a ten-thirty pedicure.

Angie would have liked to stab me with the nearest pair of scissors, but at the same time she couldn’t keep from offering advice as I stocked my manicure supplies. “Do not talk too much. In fact, say as little as possible. Smile, but don’t do that big smile you do sometimes. Get him to talk about himself. Men love that. Try to get his business card. And no matter what, don’t mention your little sister. Men are turned off by women with responsibilities.”

“Angie,” I muttered back, “I’m not looking for a sugar daddy. And even if I was, he’s too old.”

Angie shook her head. “Honey, there’s no such thing as too old. I can tell just by looking, that man hasn’t lost his juice yet.”

“I’m not interested in his juice,” I said. “Or his money.”

After Churchill Travis’s hair was cut and styled, I met him in another private room. We sat facing each other across the manicure table in the white light of a large swing-arm lamp. “Your cut looks good,” I commented, taking one of his hands and placing it gently in a bowl of softening solution.

“It should, for what Zenko charges.” Travis stared dubiously at the array of tools and bottles of colored liquid on the manicure table. “You like working for him?”

“Yes, sir, I do. I’m learning a lot from Zenko. I’m lucky to have this job.”

We talked as I tended his hands, sloughing off dead skin, trimming and pushing back cuticles, filing and buffing his nails to a glassy sheen. Travis watched the procedure with great interest, having never submitted to such a thing in his life.

“What made you decide to work in a beauty shop?” he asked.

“When I was younger, I used to do my friends’ hair and makeup. I’ve always liked making people look good. And I like it that when I’m done, they feel better about themselves.” I uncapped a small bottle, and Travis regarded it with something close to alarm.

“I don’t need that,” he said firmly. “You can do the other stuff, but I draw the line at polish.”

“This isn’t polish, it’s cuticle oil. And you need plenty of it.” Ignoring his flinching, I used a tiny brush to apply the oil to his cuticles. “Funny,” I commented, “you don’t have a businessman’s hands. You must do something besides push paper across a desk.”

He shrugged. “Some ranching work now and then. Lot of riding. And I work in the garden from time to time, although not as much as I did before my wife died. That woman had a passion for growing things.”

I slicked some cream between my palms and began a hand and wrist massage. It was hard to get him to relax, his fingers unwilling to give up their knotty tension. “I heard she died pretty recently,” I said, glancing at his rough-cast face, where grief had left signs of obvious weathering. “I’m sorry.”

Travis gave a slight nod. “Ava was a good woman,” he said gruffly. “The best woman I ever knew. She had breast cancer—we caught it too late.”

In spite of Zenko’s adamance that employees refrain from discussing their personal lives, I was nearly overcome with the urge to tell Churchill that I, too, had lost someone dear to me. Instead I commented, “They say it’s easier when you’ve had time to prepare for someone’s death. But I don’t believe that.”

“Neither do I.” Churchill’s hand tightened over mine so briefly that I barely had time to register its pressure. Startled, I looked up and saw the kindness and muted sadness in his face. Somehow I knew that no matter what I chose to tell or to keep secret, he would understand.

 

As it turned out, my relationship with Churchill became something far more complex than a romantic one. It would have been more understandable and straightforward had it involved romance or sex, but Churchill was never interested in me that way. As an attractive and insanely wealthy widower just past sixty, he had his pick of women. I got into the habit of looking for mentions of him in newspapers and magazines. I was highly entertained by photos of him with glamorous society women and B-movie actresses, and even occasionally with foreign royalty. Churchill moved in fast circles.

When he was too busy to come to Salon One for a haircut, he’d summon Zenko to his mansion. Sometimes he would drop by for a neck and eyebrow trim, or a manicure from me. Churchill was always a little sheepish about the manicures. But after the first time I filed, trimmed, scraped, and moisturized his hands, and buffed his nails to a subtle sheen, he liked the look and feel of them so much that he said he guessed he’d just added a new time-waster to his routine. And he admitted, after some goading from me, that his lady friends appreciated the results of his manicures too.

Churchill’s friendship, the chats we had across the manicure table, made me the target of both envy and admiration at the salon. I understood the nature of the speculation about our friendship, the general consensus being that he certainly wasn’t seeking out my company to ask my opinions about the stock market. I think everyone assumed something had happened between us, or happened every so often, or was inevitably going to happen. Zenko certainly assumed so, and treated me with a courtesy he showed to no other employees of my level. I guess he figured even if I weren’t the exclusive reason Churchill came to Salon One, my presence certainly didn’t hurt.

Finally one day I asked, “Are you planning to make a move on me sometime, Churchill?”

He looked startled. “Hell, no. You’re too young for me. I like my women seasoned.” A pause, and then an almost comical expression of dismay. “You don’t want me to, do you?”

“No.”

Had he ever tried, I’m not sure what I would have done. I had no idea how to define my feelings toward Churchill—I hadn’t had enough relationships with men to put this one in context. “But I don’t understand why you’ve been paying attention to me,” I continued, “if you’re not planning to…you know.”

“Someday I’ll let you know why,” he said. “But not now.”

I admired Churchill more than anyone I had ever met. He wasn’t always easy to deal with, of course. His mood could turn ornery in a flash. He was not a restful man. I don’t think there were many moments in Churchill’s life when he was a hundred percent happy. A lot of that had to do with his having lost two wives, the first, Joanna, right after the birth of their son…and Ava, his wife of twenty-six years. Churchill was not one to accept the whims of fate passively, and the losses of people he loved had hit him hard. I understood about that.

 

It was almost two years before I could bring myself to talk to Churchill about my mother, or anything but the barest facts about my past. Somehow Churchill had found out when my birthday was, and he had one of his secretaries call in the morning to tell me we were going out to lunch. I wore a neat black knee-length skirt and a white top, and my silver armadillo necklace. Churchill arrived at noon in an elegant British-made suit, looking like a prosperous old European hit man. He escorted me to a white Bentley waiting curbside, with a driver who opened the back door.

We went to the fanciest restaurant I had ever seen, with French d?cor and white tablecloths and beautiful paintings on the walls. The menus were written in calligraphy on textured cream-colored paper, and the food was described in such intricate terms—roulades and rissoles and complex sauces—I had no idea what to order. The prices nearly gave me a heart attack. The cheapest item on the menu was a ten-dollar appetizer, and it consisted of a single shrimp prepared in ways I couldn’t begin to pronounce. Near the bottom of the menu I saw a description of a hamburger served with sweet potato fries, and nearly spewed a mouthful of diet Coke when I saw the price.

“Churchill,” I said in disbelief, “there’s a hundred-dollar hamburger on the menu.”

He frowned, not out of shared incredulity but because my menu had prices on it. One twitch of his finger summoned a waiter, who apologized profusely. The menu was whipped out of my hands and replaced by another, almost identical one, except this one had no dollar amounts.

“Why shouldn’t mine have prices on it?” I asked.

“Because you’re the woman,” Churchill said, still annoyed by the waiter’s mistake. “I’m taking you to lunch, and you’re not supposed to think about how much it costs.”

“That hamburger was one hundred dollars.” I couldn’t stop obsessing over it. “What could they possibly do to that hamburger to make it worth a hundred dollars?”

My expression seemed to amuse him. “Let’s ask.”

A waiter was enlisted to answer questions about the menu. When asked how the hamburger was prepared and what made it so special, he explained the ingredients were all organic, including those in the homemade parmesan bun, and it contained smoked buffalo mozzarella, hydroponic butterhead lettuce, vine-ripened tomato, and chile compote layered atop a burger made of organic beef and ground emu.

The word “emu” set me off.

I felt a laugh break from my lips, and then another, and then there was no stopping the helpless giggles that made my eyes water and my shoulders tremble. I clamped a hand over my mouth to hold them back, but that only made it worse. I began to seriously worry if I could stop. I was making a spectacle of myself in the fanciest restaurant I’d ever been in.

The waiter tactfully disappeared. I tried to gasp out an apology to Churchill, who watched me with concern and shook his head slightly, as if to say No, don’t apologize. He put his hand on my wrist in a reassuring grip. Somehow the pressure on my wrist quieted the wild laughter. I was able to take a long breath, and my chest relaxed.

I told him about moving to the trailer in Welcome, and Mama’s boyfriend named Flip who had shot the emu. I couldn’t seem to talk fast enough, so many details tumbled out. Churchill caught every word, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and when I finally reached the part about giving the dead emu to the Cateses, he was chuckling.

Although I hadn’t been aware of ordering wine, the waiter brought a bottle of pinot noir. The liquid glittered richly in tall-stemmed crystal glasses. “I shouldn’t,” I said. “I’m going back to work after lunch.”

“You’re not going back to work.”

“Of course I am. My afternoon is booked.” But I felt weary at the thought of it, not just the work, but summoning the appropriate charm and cheerfulness my clients expected.

Churchill reached inside his jacket, extracted a cell phone no larger than a domino, and dialed Salon One. As I watched, openmouthed, he asked for Zenko, informed him that I would be taking the afternoon off, and asked if that would be all right. According to Churchill, Zenko said of course it would be all right and he would rearrange the schedule. No problem.

As Churchill closed the cell phone with a self-satisfied click, I said darkly, “I’m going to catch hell for this later. And if anyone else but you had made that call, Zenko would have asked if you have your head up your culo.”

Churchill grinned. One of his flaws was that he enjoyed people’s inability to tell him off.

I talked through the entire lunch, prodded by Churchill’s questions, his warm interest, the wineglass that somehow never emptied no matter how much I drank. The freedom of saying anything to him, telling all, relieved a burden I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying. In my relentless push to keep moving forward, there had been so many emotions I hadn’t let myself inhabit fully, so many things I hadn’t talked about. Now I couldn’t quite catch up to myself. I fumbled in my purse for my wallet and got out Carrington’s school picture. She had a gap-toothed smile, and one of her ponytails was a little higher than the other.

Churchill looked at the photo for a long time, even reached in his pocket for a pair of reading glasses so he could see every detail. He drank some wine before commenting. “Happy child, looks like.”

“Yes, she is.” I tucked the photo back into my wallet with care.

“You’ve done well, Liberty,” he said. “It was the right thing to keep her.”

“I had to. She’s all I’ve got. And I knew no one would take care of her like I would.” I was surprised by the words that slipped out so easily, the need to confess everything.

This was what it would have been like, I thought with a small, painful thrill. This was a glimpse of what I might have had with Daddy. A man so much older and wiser, who seemed to understand everything, even the things I hadn’t said. It had bothered me for years that Carrington didn’t have a father. What I hadn’t realized was how much I still needed one for myself.

Still buzzed from the wine, I told Churchill about Carrington’s upcoming Thanksgiving pageant at school. Her class, which would perform two songs, was divided into Pilgrims and Native Americans, and Carrington had balked at being part of either group. She wanted to be a cowgirl. She’d been so stubborn about it that her teacher, Miss Hansen, had called me at home. I’d explained to Carrington that there had been no cowgirls in 1621. There hadn’t even been a Texas then, I told her. It turned out my sister didn’t care about historical accuracy.

The argument had finally been resolved by Miss Hansen’s suggestion that Carrington be allowed to wear the cowgirl costume and walk out on stage at the very beginning of the pageant. She would carry a cardboard sign shaped like our state, printed with the words A TEXAS THANKSGIVING.

Churchill roared with laughter at the story, seeming to think my sister’s muleheadedness was a virtue.

“You’re missing the point,” I told him. “If this is a sign of things to come, I’m going to have a terrible time when she hits adolescence.”

“Ava had two rules about dealing with adolescents,” Churchill said. “First, the more you try to control them, the more they rebel. And second, you can always reach a compromise as long as they need you to drive them to the mall.”

I smiled. “I’ll have to remember those rules. Ava must have been a good mother.”

“In every way,” he said emphatically. “Never complained when she got the short end of the stick. Unlike most people, she knew how to be happy.”

I was tempted to point out that most people would be happy if they had a nice family and a big mansion and all the money they needed. I kept my mouth closed, however.

Even so, Churchill seemed to read my mind. “With all you hear at work,” he said, “you should have figured out by now rich folks are just as miserable as poor ones. More, in fact.”

“I’m trying to work up some sympathy,” I said dryly. “But I think there’s a difference between real problems and invented problems.”

“That’s where you’re like Ava,” he said. “She could tell the difference too.”

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