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Soaps & Serials: As the World Turns; Book # 1
Topic Started: Jun 17 2008, 09:56 PM (768 Views)
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(Soaps & Serials: As the World Turns, Book #1)

Chapter One:

“Good morning”

“Good morning, dear.”

“Coffee, Chris?”

Without waiting for an answer, Nancy poured a cup for him, then a careful half cup for herself. They had been married nearly twenty years and that first cup of coffee never tasted quite right to Nancy Hughes unless she had poured one for her husband first.

Poor man, he’s certainly the worse for wear, she noted with concern. Being up half the night preparing a brief for today’s court appearance hadn’t done much for his appearance either. She slid the morning edition of the Oakdale Gazette a few inches closer to his left hand, then moved the cream and sugar within easy reach of his right. He’s been driving himself too hard lately, she fretted, and Jim, who’s supposed to be helping him on the case, is no use at all. And now for Jim to go gallivanting off to that convention in Buffalo – it was just plain irresponsible, that’s what it was, especially at a busy time like this.

Instantly, she felt a twinge of guilt. Though she often questioned their values in life, she was nonetheless very fond of the wealthy Lowells, especially Jim’s wife, Claire. Now there was another disturbing thought. Poor Claire. What was going on with her? Sad and angry, vulnerable yet hardened, she seemed resigned to some fate Nancy could only guess at. The Lowells, the most fashionable couple in the country club set, seemed so perfect on the surface. Still, some questions lingered in Nancy’s min, some as yet unformed suspicion.

There now, she chided herself, don’t meddle in other people’s affairs. Your own family needs your attention, particularly that groggy man staring blankly at the front page of the paper. How soon will it be, she wondered, before Chris can share his workload with one of the boys? With any luck it’ll be Don – he’s a good deal older than Bobby, and he certainly has that lawyer’s way with words. But that’s years away, she reminded herself. All things come in good time, she thought, sighing, as she padded to the stove to scramble some eggs.

“Nancy, did you see this?”

Of course she hadn’t. She liked to give Chris a fresh paper each morning, as sort of an everyday affirmation of his position as head of the family. Then, when he left for the office and the rest of their family had gone their separate ways, she would settle down with a nice cup of coffee and take her own sweet time absorbing the day’s news before she began her housework.

“Read it to me, dear. I’ve got to watch the toast.” She checked for a reaction but saw none. Nothing registers yet, she thought with amusement.

The toast was a running joke in the Hughes household. For all her skill in the kitchen, somehow she could never make toast to her husband’s specifications. She relished the familiarity of the routine, mostly because she suspected that Chris’ gentle complaints were all part of a playful game designed to remind her how important she was. With satisfaction, she compared her skills to those of her sister in law, Edith and chuckled aloud. Then she stopped immediately when she saw the expression on Chris’ face.

In one swift motion she pulled the frying pan from the stove and turned the eggs onto the plate. Breakfast in hand, she moved quickly to her husband’s shoulder. “What on earth,” she asked, “has you so –“ then stopped abruptly as she saw what had caught Chris’ eye.

Jim Lowell woke with a start. Where am I? Why am I here? His eyes darted around the darkened room in a frantic search for familiar objects. He flung back the damp and knotted sheet and struggled to extricate himself. Free at last, he lay back down on the pillow and inspected the room once again.

In the pre-dawn gloom, he saw what he hoped he’d never see, the realization of his worst and most private fears. It couldn’t have happened, yet somehow it had. What should he do now? The last agonizing days of his life flashed before his eyes and he saw himself as some sort of B- movie patsy, in mockery of his actual standing as a pillar of the community. Uncontrollable rage welled up through every fiber of his being, and it’s force frightened him through and through. He fought an urge to run, to escape everything. Quickly he made a last ditch effort to re-assert himself. Don’t panic, he ordered himself, then listened helplessly as his mind echoed back panic, panic, panic.


He leaped out of bed, shocked by the sound of his own voice. His feet hit the floor with a thud and suddenly he realized where he was. He was back – he was home. Relief flooded his body. His pulse slowed and he checked the other bed to make sure Claire was still sleeping. He wriggled his toes into the carpet as if to assure himself that he was indeed in his own room, his own house, his own life. Shivering less from the cold than from an effort to rid himself of that intrusive nightmare, he slipped on his robe and headed for the door.

Then, all at once, without warning, his heart pounded wildly. The panic had been so close, so palpable and the very thought of it brought him on the brink of terror once again. I can’t live like this, he told himself, and again the echo came back. Live like this, live like this, live like this. That insistent voice, so moralistic; it would drive him mad. He hurried for the stairs, hoping against hope that the voice would stay in the bedroom. Before he could stop himself, he asked, do I deserve this? Yet again came the awful answer. I deserve this, I deserve this, I deserve this.

He grasped the rail for support. What a way to wake up! He prayed that the rest of the morning would go better, the, with a rueful grin, he asked himself what right did he have to make any requests from God. He’d solve this dilemma himself. It was quite a predicament, but at least he had one advantage: no one suspected. Not Claire, thank God, or Ellen, that sweet innocent girl, or Chris, or Nancy. There had to be a way out and he’d find it, if it was the last thing he did.

Immediately he regretted his choice of words. It would be the first thing he did and he’d do it today, this very morning. Resolution strengthened him and he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Perhaps this would work out after all and he might even be able to turn the situation to his advantage. His strode purposefully through the living room and pulled open the French doors which led to the terrace. Ah, the intoxicating smell of spring, he thought, such a reaffirmation of life. It gave him just the sense of renewal he so desperately needed.

Instinctively he turned to gaze at the northern sky, the way he had as a small boy. The unfulfilled longings of his youth pulsed through him and their familiarity both comforted and reminded him how far he had strayed. But all would be well, he vowed firmly, and there was a fine life waiting for him. He could find his path to happiness – it was right in front of him, right here in Oakdale. He only had to extricate himself from….

“What are those lights, dear? The aurora borealis?” His wife had materialized soundlessly at his side.

“No Claire, it’s Chicago.” He regretted the sarcasm in his voice as soon as he heard it, but she had interrupted his fantasy. His slid his arm around her shoulder and held her close to him. He would have to work very hard to keep his resolution.

“Can I fix you some breakfast? Please, dear?”

She was begging to be needed, and it irritated him. This was going to be much more difficult than he thought. “I’m late,” he said abruptly and turned on his heel, leaving her alone on the terrace staring blankly into the sky. Yet Claire Lowell saw only a dark and meaningless void.

“Last one in is an old maid!”

“Oh no, I’m not!”

“Yes you are! You don’t even have a date for the prom yet.”

“Only because I can’t decide who to say yes to.”

The excited, high-pitched shrieks brought Nancy out of her reverie with a jolt that she dropped the whole bag of clothespins to the ground. She peered between the rows of sheets and towels, across the backyard, through the breezeway and onto the front lawn. Was school out already? She’d been so preoccupied all day that she must’ve lost track of the time.

“I’ll be right in, girls,” she called but they were already out of sight, no doubt rummaging through the refrigerator, she was sure. She pulled the remaining clothes off the line and hastily folded them. Today she was particularly glad Penny was home, and she was pleased she’d brought Ellen with her. Their innocuous chatter was certain to chase away any unpleasant thoughts. She parked the laundry basket in the pantry and paused for a moment to fondly at her eldest daughter. It hardly seemed seventeen years since that wondrous day Chris had rushed her to Oakdale Memorial.

Actually, it hadn’t seemed so wonderful then, she recalled. She had been terribly frightened, not so much by the excruciating pain she was sure would come, but by the awesome responsibilities of impending motherhood. Would she measure up? Her simple girlhood, spent in several tiny towns in the Midwest, seemed inadequate preparation for the complexities of raising a family in the suburbs of Chicago. Even then, Oakdale was losing it’s bucolic charm, and Nancy remembered being concerned that life here would soon begin to move faster than she could handle. It all seemed so ludicrous now that she, Nancy Hughes, might fail at being a mother, but at the time it had been a deeply troubling worry. Only Chris’ solid support and quiet strength had restored her confidence.

And now before her sat Penny, the first of her four children, and the one upon whom Nancy had place all of her most precious hopes and dreams. A woman loves all her children equally, but no matter how much she tries not to, she reserves a special place in her heart for her firstborn, Nancy believed. And at the moment, Penny was occupying that spot with grand and youthful style.

“But Ellen, did you see him?” she bubbled gaily, the fabric of her skirt a whirl of blue as she pirouetted across the linoleum. “I think he’s the dreamiest!”

Nancy wondered how the language of teenagers could change so much from year to year, yet always remain the same. Surely she hadn’t been so frivolous when she was Penny’s age, she thought, then realized that it was only because she hadn’t had the opportunity.

“Jeff doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in school, you know,” her chum countered primly.

At times, Ellen was an uncomfortably accurate reflection of her parents’ less admirable qualities, thought Nancy. “Who’s Jeff, dear? I haven’t heard you mention him before.” She disguised her motherly curiosity with an offhand tone.

“Just the handsomest boy in the whole senior class, that’s who. And I don’t care who likes him and who doesn’t.” She flounced to the refrigerator, plucked out an apple and took a large juicy bite.

“Oh Penny, you always try to sound so rebellious,” snorted Ellen. “Gimme an apple too.”

“Try and make me.” With a mischievous grin, Penny tucked an apple behind her back.

Eyes sparkling, Ellen made a grab for it. “Hand it over, or I’ll….” Triumphantly she snatched the fruit from her friend. Consumed by giggles, the girls gathered up their schoolbooks and papers and dashed out of the room.

“Is that going to be enough nourishment for you children?” Nancy asked with amused tolerance but they were already thundering up the stairs to the room Penny shared with Susan.

Teenagers are such peculiar creatures, she thought. One minute they are acting like kids and then the next minute they’re all grown up.

“Am I interrupting?”

Nancy turned around smiling. “Dad.” The gentle voice belonged to Chris’ father, the children’s beloved Grandpa Hughes, and she wished she could have the benefit of his counsel right now. Instead, she asked, “What can I get for you?”

“Just some of your time, dear. You’ve been a million miles away all day – and I can tell you’re worried about something.”

“Oh it’s nothing really. At least I hope – I mean, I think it’s nothing.” Nancy was doing a poor job of convincing herself, and her father in law didn’t look as if he would buy it either. “Anyway, it doesn’t concern you or the family or anyone you care about.”

Nancy never snapped at Grandpa but the strain of telling an outright lie had made her unexpectedly angry. She looked around for refuge and suddenly remembered the laundry. She brought the basket into the kitchen and carefully folded the last few items.

“Um, Dad, I’m really not myself today, though that’s hardly a good excuse for talking to you like that.” Her apology brought a tolerant and understanding smile to Grandpa’s face, but Nancy didn’t feel any better for it. Why couldn’t she and Chris just tell him the truth? Chris wanted to. But it wasn’t their secret and besides, they weren’t even sure it was true. Or, at least, Nancy wasn’t sure. And this time she was holding off passing judgments.

She picked up a pile of fresh linens, sniffed it with satisfaction and made for the stairs. The girls wouldn’t be as inquisitive as Grandpa. They were so much more interested in boys, school, clothes, and hair that they didn’t have time for adult problems. As she walked past Chris’ den, she looked in, and in her mind’s eye she saw a tiny Penny rolling around on the floor, merrily tumbling in her father’s strong arms. That picture was as clear and vivid to her as if it had happened only yesterday. And now that innocent baby was about to graduate from high school. Nancy’s only regret, and it was a painful one, was that her own parents couldn’t be there for such a milestone.

She quickly filed away the sadness her realization produced, took a deep breath and headed for the stairs. Life is a continuum, and that knowledge brought her comfort. Her father had given her inner strength and an unshakeable belief in God’s power, and in that way, he remained a part of her forever. From her mother, she learned a joyous, zestful philosophy of life, tempered by the practical common sense that was a part of her now. Yet of all her mother’s gifts, the most priceless was her capacity for unconditional love. It was the one quality she was determined to pass on to Penny, so that Penny’s children would be loved as much as Penny was, and as much as Nancy had been by her parents.

Ellen’s voice reverberated down the stairwell. “Well she sure doesn’t dress the way I’d ever care to. And her behavior!” She tsk-tsked in just the way Nancy found most annoying, especially in one so young. “I certainly wouldn’t want all of Oakdale talking about me behind my back and she doesn’t even seem to notice.”

“It’s all a question of what’s important to people.” Nancy swallowed with pride as she heard her daughter stand up for a person’s right to individuality. “Personally, I like her. I admire her for not always doing exactly what other people expect of her. She believes in herself and I hope I grow up just like her.”

Who was this mysterious person? Clearly it was not a classmate. Nancy paused midway on the stairs, curious about this controversial person.

“Well,” Ellen retorted, “Of course you like her but you don’t need to stick up for her all the time. My mother can’t stand her, and neither can I. I’d just die if she were my aunt.”


Nancy took in her breath in one sharp gulp. Frankly, now she wasn’t quite so thrilled at Penny’s passionate defense of nonconformity. Edith thought she was too fascinating, too independent to be bothered with the tired conventions of Oakdale, but to Nancy, she was selfish, self-absorbed, self-obsessed. She simply thought of no one but herself, and she made no secret of the fact that she considered Nancy an interloper in the Hughes family. Nonetheless, Nancy was cordial with her and never failed to include her in family functions. But having Edith serve as a role model for impressionable Penny was another matter indeed, and Nancy didn’t know how to put a stop to it. The problem had been building for quite some time, and she had simply preferred to ignore it. Edith was a strong adversary – Nancy knew that only too well. Furthermore, she did have a right to live her life the way she saw fit, no matter what Nancy or the rest of Oakdale thought about it.

“If you’d seen her yesterday,” Ellen continued, “You wouldn’t be so proud of her. She was acting downright peculiar.”

“What are you talking about? Aunt Edith was out of town until the weekend. I know, ‘cause she told me herself. She went to Chicago to look for some summer clothes. Heaven knows, there’s nothing in this town that’s suitable for her.”

Penny was right. Edith had gone out of town on a shopping trip, or at least she said she was going to go, Nancy recalled with growing anxiety.

“I saw her at the train station yesterday, when Mummy and I went to pick up Daddy. He was so exhausted from all those meetings in Buffalo. I’d never seen him like that. Mummy and I were helping him with his suitcases when I saw you aunt Edith get off the same car as Daddy, except from the rear door. At first I didn’t think it was her. For one thing, she was wearing a big floppy hat so you couldn’t see her face, and then, when she saw us, she headed the other way. Now you know as well as I do that she and Daddy are friends, and she acted like she didn’t even see him. Except – and here’s the odd thing – when she thought Mummy and I weren’t looking, I saw her give Daddy this really strange look, like… well, I don’t know what it was like.”

In a flash, Nancy realized what that glance had signified and she dreaded facing it. It was all too obvious now. When Chris had shown her the picture in the paper this morning, her first impulse was to think it was all a mistake. That just couldn’t have been Edith in the background of that photo from the lawyer’s convention. After all, Edith was in Chicago, buying a new wardrobe so she’d be chic in the summer heat in Oakdale. That was what she had told everyone, and after all, what could’ve been more plausible? It really had been a great cover story and Nancy had bought it. She’d defended her sister so many times, saying that Edith was an essentially good, though misguided woman. Now she felt betrayed. Edith had been lying to everyone, but, most of all, to her brother Chris. How could she have done such a thing? Edith had not gone on a shopping spree. She hadn’t been in Chicago at all. She had been in Buffalo with another woman’s husband, and the very idea of it made Nancy sick. And to think that this was the woman her Penny idolized. Well, not for long, she concluded grimly.

“She must have just changed trains or something and come back early.” Penny’s explanation was a trifle glib. Had she suspected all along?

Nancy cleared her throat and stepped into her daughter’s room. Trying to sound casual, she said, “Here honey, will you put these away for me?” and handed her a stack of towels. “I’ve got to start dinner. Ellen, would you like to stay?”

“No, thank you, Mrs. Hughes. I want to be home tonight. My father has been gone all week and then last night, he had to go out for something or other, so he promised that tonight he would spend some time with me.”

Nancy’s heart ached for her. And her anger rose and rose until she felt she would burst. So many innocent people were being hurt. Ellen, poor Claire, Chris, and Grandpa. But Nancy couldn’t bring herself to meddle. This was one time she would keep herself out of it. Definitely, positively, she would keep her mouth completely shut. Maybe if she repeated that to herself often enough, she might believe it.

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If I recall Edith was played by Ruth Warrick wasn't she? Would have loved to see her on ATWT. I know Frances Reid was as well, was her character part of the show yet?
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Yes, Edith Hughes was played by the late great Ruth Warrick. Grace Baker was there but I don't think Frances Reid would play the part for another year or two. La Reid was the second actress to play the part.
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Was Grace very integral in story. What kind of character was she? A bitch? A herione?
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I don't if I would describe Grace as a total bitch but she was not in favor of her son Jeff's romance with Penny Hughes. Grace could be a thorn in the side of the Hughes family. Then again, Nancy and Chris weren't necessarily thrilled with daughter Penny's relationship with Jeff either.
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The thought of Helen Wagner, Ruth Warrick and Frances Reid together is amazing to me. The people that got the chance to watch those three great actresses interact with each other I would be and truly am very jealous of.
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Steve Frame
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My Mom said Frances Reid was great as Grace Baker. She was so different from Alice Horton. She was very wealthy and Mom said that Frances played the part of a snob with utter perfection.

I have seen Frances on an old episode of Perry Mason where she played the part of a similar lady in the 50's. She could do it very well. I love Alice but when I see some of the dramatics that Frances got away with on some of the old Perry Mason's and the like, I think how much Days wasted the talent as Alice has not really in all the years had a really really meaty dramatic scene too often to play.

The most overly dramatic stuff that Frances gets as Alice is when one of her children has died - Addie for real and then Mickey who they thought was dead.
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Chapter 2:

She took one final look in the mirror, made a last minute adjustment to her hair, then jumped up from her dressing table and hurried for the door. As she strode through the living room, she paused briefly to admire her reflection in the full length mirror which stood between the buffet and the chaise. A fine figure of a woman, she complimented herself, deserving far greater rewards than life had given her up till now. She drew herself up, threw her head back and tossed her lustrous brown locks. Too dazzling, she thought. I’m just too intense. He likes his women quiet and unassuming, mousy even, she thought with disdain. Well, I can conceal only so much. Either he loves me the way I am or else I’ll… she decided she would think about that later.

She moved to the door and struck a pose which she hoped was the right combination of subtle feminine appeal and not so subtle sensuality. She leaned forward to peer through the peephole, just to make sure it was him. She yanked the door open, stuck her head out, and looked up and down the empty hallway. That’s the fourth time this afternoon I’ve done this. She slammed the door then held her ear to it to see if any of her neighbors had heard.

“Truly,” she said aloud, “I am becoming quite vexed.” That sounded properly cultured, she thought. A lady of her refinement should maintain her image even in so tiresome a situation. When Jim had called her that morning, he said he was coming right over, and his voice had a ring of urgency, she remembered. Then he had called and said he wouldn’t be able to come until later that afternoon, but that he very much wanted to talk to her. Last night they had certainly done no talking. What could have happened between last night and this morning that they should talk about? Edith Hughes, she said to herself, was entitled to more than idle conversation, and she would see to it that she got it.

It didn’t matter that she’d only recently succeeded in making Jim a part of her life. Now that he was, she had absolutely no intention of letting him go. Those last few days they had spent together had sealed their relationship as far as she was concerned. He had made certain promises deep in the night, there in the hotel room in Buffalo, and she was determined that his obligation would not fade in the clear light of day in Oakdale. She distractedly fingered the bouquet of gladioli he had brought her last night. Glads – so brilliant, so showy, she thought. So unlike Jim, yet so very right for Edith.

So where was he? This was really becoming too much to bear. She certainly wasn’t about to call his office and not just because her brother might very well be there. In fact, she didn’t really care that much what Chris knew about them. He’d had his chance to give her what she needed in life and he’d chose not to, so now she was just going to have to go after her heart’s desires in her own way. And if Chris didn’t like how she went about it, well that was just too bad, now wasn’t it?

Perhaps she would change her dress. That should kill some time. Anyway, now that it was nearly evening, her light blue floral print was no longer appropriate. What should she choose? She moved to her closet and opened the door. Her theory about housecleaning was that it should be confined to those areas of the apartment that people were likely to see and her closet was not one of those. Her burgundy dress was lying in a heap on the floor, underneath a pair of shoes and a blouse, so there went that idea. Without enthusiasm she began to shuffle through the garments that were still on hangers. Jim’s imminent visit was losing it’s appeal with each passing moment.

Well, she decided with resignation, I’ve got to choose something and I might as well do it now. The grey cocktail dress was a trifle formal and she didn’t want to look as if she considered his visit a special occasion. Wait, she thought, that simple navy sheath I got last month will be just perfect. She slipped it on and moved immediately to her dressing table. Pearls would be an exquisite finishing touch, but should it be a single strand or a double? She was starting to feel a little less anxious now. In fact she began to hope that Jim would be delayed just a few minutes longer.

She settled herself luxuriantly on her stool, as if she had all the time on earth. Her dressing table was her favorite spot in the whole world. She loved the graceful curve of the mirror, the elegant gleam of the glass top, the opulent excess of the rows and rows of bottles and tiny jars that lined the top and the one little shelf. But most of all, she loved the pink ruffle cover. She laughed aloud to think of it, that she, Edith Hughes, loved pink ruffles but it was true. To her they seemed to symbolize everything she desired – beauty and charm, both for herself and her surroundings, as well as affluence, security and most of all, love. In fact, it was only when she sat here at her table, with those ruffles brushing softly against her knees that she felt truly and completely loved.

Jim stood in the hallway for what seemed to him like an eternity, his finger posed over the doorbell. How on earth was he going to handle this? It had seemed so simple this morning. All he had to do was to be straightforward with her, to explain how their affair would affect everyone and why they had to end it. If only he had come over first thing, right after he had awakened, when the memory of his dream was still so fresh and painful. Then the shock of thinking he’d awakened in Edith’s room instead of his own would have pushed him into putting a stop to this foolishness once and for all. Because that’s what it was, pure and simple. It was foolish for a married man to carry on with another woman when he had no intention of doing “the right thing” by her. And in a situation like this, what was the right thing anyway? He had a wife he loved very deeply and a daughter he adored, and if they ever found out about this, it would break their hearts. Poor Claire was fragile enough already and Ellen… He refused to even think about what it would do to that innocent teenager if she ever found out. And find out she would, unless he not only broke off his relationship with Edith, but also convinced her to keep their liaison a secret in the process.

He’d already learned about Edith’s disregard for other people’s feelings, and he did not want another lesson like that. With trepidation he’d agreed she could accompany him to the convention but he made her promise to keep out of sight. She did not do that. When she showed up unannounced at the closing night dinner, he thought he’d have a heart attack right then and there. But she laughed off his concern, blithely assuring him that no one noticed and, even if anyone did, no one cared.

“These are not the 1950’s,” she proclaimed brightly, “not the dark ages! Now Jim, let’s forget about everyone else. Let’s live for the moment and never look back. Let’s just think about us and what we have together and society be damned!”

Somehow, those hundreds of miles away, her words touched a chord deep within him. The world was changing and Jim wanted to change along with it. He was over forty and he’d been with the same woman for nearly half his life. He felt that he was missing something and he didn’t even know what. Life held many mysteries and he had investigated so few of them.

After a staid and proper boyhood in Oakdale, he had gone away to college and then law school at the same university. I was there, in his undergraduate years, that he had met Claire. They had married right after graduation. Together they had moved back to his hometown and had started a family almost immediately, and Jim had gone to work in the law practice owned by his father. His whole life, it seemed, had been planned out for him – everything had been somehow predestined. There had been no surprises – he had never done anything unpredictable. He had been completely devoted to doing what was expected of him, and now he felt trapped.

In the beginning, Claire had been very appealing, like a helpless little puppy. She had depended on him for everything and looked up to him as if he were her father. He had been her whole world, and it had made him feel strong and good and worthwhile. Then Ellen was born. It had been a difficult pregnancy but an even more difficult delivery. For a while there, it was touch and go, but Claire pulled through eventually. It was a few months later that she started to notice the change in her. She became moody, withdrawn and often obsessed with Ellen. Everything had to be just right for that child, and though Jim loved the baby more than he could ever say, he still resented how completely Claire focused on her.

Despite the growing coldness at home, it was years before he even looked at another woman. In fact, his affair with Edith was the only indiscretion in his marriage. And now, that one mistake was threatening to shake his life to it’s very foundation.

Unfortunately, the choice was not as clear cut as it had seemed at dawn, for Edith Hughes was a fascinating woman, the opposite of what he had known for twenty years. She appeared to need no one and to be completely sure of her own self worth. She really did practice what she preached – she charted her own path in life and didn’t care whether anyone else approved or not.

Claire was very different. Vulnerable, quick to feel pain, she cared passionately what her friends and neighbors thought and Jim realized that the anguish this might cause her would be almost more than she could bear. And as for Ellen, although she was a teenager, to him she was still only a baby, with an unformed sense of morality. A revelation like this could destroy her as well. Quite frankly, he had to decide whether or not Edith was worth it.

A typical lawyer’s approach, he thought wryly, to place all the pros on one side and all the cons on the other and then see which one tipped the scales. With relief tinged with regret, he could see what his true feelings were.

He felt his strength returning. He knew what he must do. Jim Lowell had always taken the righteous and noble path and tonight would be no exception. He pressed the doorbell firmly until he was sure the melodic chimes sounded through the apartment.

Claire Lowell picked up the phone on the first ring. Surely it was Jim, just calling to say he’d be home momentarily. It was really getting quite late. “Yes dear,” she said. “Dinner’s almost ready. Will you be here soon?”

“Mummy, it’s me!”

Suddenly Claire realized that Ellen wasn’t home from Penny’s yet, and she hadn’t even noticed. She hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything but Jim all day. When he woke up this morning, his mood had been so disturbing, so strange, and so full of foreboding somehow. Then he had dashed out of the house without eating breakfast or reading the paper. And she hadn’t heard from him since.

“Is Daddy home? He promised me he’d spend time with me tonight and I can’t wait! When will he be there? Didn’t he tell you?”

“No honey, he didn’t. He’s not here yet but I’m sure he is on his way.” Claire wanted to get this conversation over with as soon as possible. Ellen’s incessant questions were getting on her nerves. She just couldn’t cope with worrying over Jim and trying to assure her daughter that everything was all right at the same time. “I’ll call you when he gets here.”

“Mummy, Mrs. Hughes asked me to stay for dinner and I said no because I thought Daddy would be home but now since he’s not, can I please?”

“Can you what?”

“Stay here for dinner. Please, Mummy.”

“Of course, fine. Call me later. Tomorrow’s Saturday so you don’t need to be in early. Goodbye, dear.” She hung up the phone quickly so that Ellen wouldn’t have a chance to say any more. She just wanted to be alone.

This house is so empty, she thought, and so eerily quiet. She walked slowly into the kitchen and looked around. Everything was just as she left it that morning – newspaper still folded on the table and next to it, coffee cups, napkins, silverware. She still hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch for that matter. She hadn’t really eaten anything for day, not more than a few bites anyway. It was just too much effort. Idly she picked up the paper and opened it to the front page and stood there, rooted to the floor, not wanting to believe what she saw.

Ah, finally. And wouldn’t you know it, just when I was beginning to enjoy being by myself. Edith ran a practiced hand over her hair, arranging it just so, inspected her makeup carefully and made for the door once again. This time it wasn’t a false alarm and she didn’t know if that made her happy or not.

“Jim Lowell, what a surprise!” The offhand tone she affected was as much to benefit her neighbors as it was to put Jim in his place. She closed the door gracefully and automatically modulated her voice to that husky contralto she knew he found so alluring. “I’ve missed you desperately. Where have you been all day?”

Already he felt himself weakening and imagined himself melting into her arms. To be desired so totally by such a woman – it have him that heady feeling he hadn’t experienced since the first time Claire had given herself to him. “Working, Edith,” he said, mustering up all his reserves of self control. “I’ve had a lot to catch up on, a lot of responsibilities.”

“Surely you have time for me,” she purred. “Life isn’t all drudgery.” She moved to the buffet and set up two glasses. “I know just what you need to perk you up. The weekend is coming and I’ve got the perfect way to kick it off.”

He heard the ice clink against the glass, saw the bourbon splash down over the cubes, watched as Edith then held both drinks aloft in her beautifully manicured hands. Yet he said nothing. Languidly she settled into the sofa and held out his drink to him. He sat down beside her.

“Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?”

Her question caught him off guard. Not that it had slipped his mind. He had simply forgotten that he had forewarned her. He took a long pensive sip before speaking. “Us.”

She knew what was coming. He was so duty bound. Not only was he the kind of man who would do right by his wife, but he would also be honest and above board with his mistress. It would almost be cute and endearing if it wasn’t happening to her. She had to do something about this right away.

“I know dear, I’ve wanted to talk about us too.” Her mind was racing. What would he say next? What was it that he needed to hear? She’d just have to take a stab at it. “Jim, you know I care for you a great deal and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. But I feel a little guilty. I feel I’ve led you on and drawn you into a relationship you’re not ready for.” She glanced up at him, demurely she hoped, and saw an almost imperceptible look of relief on his face. She forged ahead confidently.

“If I’m not what you want or there’s something about me you can’t accept,” she said, “then I want you to know that I’ll understand. I won’t do anything to stand in the way of your happiness.” Her voice cracked and she dabbed at an imaginary tear. This is really too corny for words, she thought, but it seemed to be working.

Jim sat up just a little straighter, then reached over and held her. He had never seen Edith quite like this, so delicate and so selfless. Her body quivered slightly in his arms. Soon she would be racked by sobs – he could feel it coming. “Edith,” he begged, “please don’t cry. Just try to listen to what I have to say.”

She sniffed, looked at him with eyes that were bigger and more soulful than he remembered, and snuggled closer to him. “It’s Claire,” he continued. “My place is with her and no matter how much I love you, I can’t abandon her.”

He had never said I love you before and she pounced on it. “Oh Jim, I love you too and to see you torn like this… well, it hurts me more than I can say. Jim, I promise you I won’t make any demands. Just stay with me a little while longer please.” She reached up and drew him closer, then slowly, inexorably, she guided him to her. He didn’t resist.

Jim turned the key in the lock, opened the door and flicked on the front hall light. Had Claire and Ellen gone out? Perhaps they had decided to take in a movie. It couldn’t be so late that they had gone to bed. He left his hat and coat on the banister, his briefcase beside it and headed for the kitchen. He was famished and he hoped Claire had left him something in the refrigerator.

He paused in mid step. Something was wrong. He didn’t think he’d ever heard the house so deathly quiet. The air outside was still – no breeze rustled the curtains. No creaks of the floorboards did he hear, no whir of appliances, no snatches of music drifting down from Ellen’s room at the far end of the upstairs hallway. He tip-toed, afraid to disturb the silence.

At the doorway to the front parlor he stopped. Finally a sound broke the hush. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock – it was the grandfather clock, unnaturally loud as it echoed across the room. All at once he remembered he had been holding his breath and he sighed long and deeply. This day had seen him in both the depths of despair and the heights of ecstasy. He was exhausted, worn out through and through. Too tired to turn on the light, he sank down on the couch in the darkened room, closed his eyes, and began to drift away to that pleasurable place between wakefulness and slumber.


He lurched forward and switched on the table lamp and there, sitting in the small straight-back chair next to the window seat, was Claire. She must have seen him come up the driveway, must have heard him enter the house. And there she was, so quiet and lady-like, her hands folded primly on her lap, he face an unreadable mask. The Oakdale Gazette lay neatly at her feet.

“Jim.” Her voice was quiet, unnaturally calm, yet with a strength he had never heard before. “What is the meaning of this?”

I’m just late dear. I’ve had an awful lot of catching up to do. Those few days in Buffalo really set me back at the office.”

“No.” There could be no mistaking her intensity. “No! I’m not asking you why you are late. I want you to explain something to me. Tell me about this, Jim.” She held up the newspaper.

He dreaded looking. Somewhere inside himself he knew what he would see, and he knew what it meant. He felt sharp twinges of pain up and down his arm and all through his shoulder. The tension was taking it’s toll. He had been right all along. Edith Hughes would only bring him misery. He could see his life crumbling in front of him and he was powerless to stop it.

The photograph swam before his eyes, Damn that woman, he cursed. How could she have done this to him? “Claire,” he said, “I love you, though I don’t expect you to believe me at this particular moment, and I’m going to tell you the truth about Edith and me. I’ve got to get it off my chest.”

“I don’t want the truth! I don’t want the details. I want you to stop. I want you to promise me that you’ll never see her again. I want you to make this up to me, Jim Lowell!” Very agitated, she got up from her chair. “I want you to take me away from Oakdale, far, far away, and I want to make me forget that any of this ever happened. I’ve given my life to you and now I want you to give me yours. You’ve betrayed me – you’ve stuck a knife in my back!” She was shrieking now.

“You’ve humiliated me in front of everyone. How will I ever face my friends? And Nancy, what about Nancy? I can never let her see me again as long as I live!” She paced up and down the rug, oblivious to Jim’s confusion and growing horror.

He stared at her dumbly, her ranting and raving rained down on him and produced no effect at all. He was in shock. He had always known that Claire was inclined to be nervous but he had never let himself think that she could become seriously unbalanced.

“I’m divorcing you! You’re no better than an animal. You have no feelings, no morals, nothing. You don’t deserve me. You deserve a woman from the gutter.” She flung over her shoulder as she rushed out of the room, “And I hope you rot in hell!”

He watched in despair as she disappeared up the stairs – then he turned to gaze at the face of the clock. Damn that thing! It stopped for nothing, just kept ticking along. He felt a sudden urge to smash it and was looking around for an implement when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed someone moving stealthily through the hallway. He wheeled around, half expecting a renewed attack from Claire.

“Daddy.” Poor Ellen was as white as a sheet.

He reached out fro her, his flesh and blood, to comfort her, but she looked at him with loathing.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t you ever touch me, ever again!” The she too was gone.

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It's sad that the Lowell family has been removed without a trace.
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