Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All For a Good Cause by Barbara Phinney Excerpt

All For A Good Cause (a romantic comedy) by Barbara Phinney

With the 'fun' put back in fundraiser and relatives firmly entrenched where they think they should be (in her personal life), Janet Jemseg struggles to stay sane at a local charity function. And it becomes all the harder when hunky philanthropist, Devin Kidder, suggests the unthinkable -- a wedding. To him.

Her quiet summer just went south. But it's all for a good cause, they say.

Chapter One

JANET JEMSEG hauled out a thick row of Cinderella styled gowns from the back seat of her car. They sparkled in the bright summer sun, jewels encased in dry cleaners’ plastic.

"I have a bad feeling about all of this," she announced to the hot tarmac of her sister's driveway.

Her sister, Maggie-Ann, snatched the gowns just a bit too quickly. "Relax, you act as if you don’t trust me," she said.

Janet flicked the hems up and draped them over Maggie-Ann’s free arm. She’d had her suspicions, while traveling all the way down here, but her sister had asked her to come home for the summer and frankly, she needed to get away from Ottawa. Besides, there was no place like Eastern Canada if a person wanted to escape the heat of Ontario. "So what Shakespearean play did you say you were doing?"

"Twelfth Night," Maggie-Ann called over her shoulder as she whisked the gowns into her house.

Janet narrowed her eyes. "On the phone you said it was ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’."

Maggie-Ann flicked the side screen door open with her foot. "So what? They’re both comedies."

Janet remained on the hot driveway, suspicion gnawing at her again as she watched her sister disappear into the house. Sure Maggie-Ann’s third husband, Tom, was Assistant Professor of Classical Literature at the university here in Sackville, New Brunswick, but that didn’t include tackling Shakespearean plays in the summer, did it?

Against her better judgment, she pulled her small suitcase out of the trunk of her car. Since she couldn’t afford a real vacation, either here or in Ottawa, where she’d made her home for the last ten years, she may as well stay. It was just that she couldn’t shake this wary feeling she wouldn’t have the quiet little holiday she deserved.

"Hi, Auntie Janet!" A duo of squeaky voices called out. She turned, grinning. Her fraternal twin nephews, the only good thing Maggie-Ann’s second marriage had produced, as her first marriage had produced nothing but ill will, rode up the driveway on battered mountain bikes. 

"Well, aren’t you two growing fast!" Janet planted a kiss on both their cheeks, not before giving them a quick scan to locate a clean spot. "What have you guys been into? Why do you have green stuff on your faces?"

Richie threw his bike onto the lawn and raced up to the house. "Dad gave us some money for ice cream. I had ‘Dinosaur Meteorites’," he yelled.

"And I had ‘Rainforest Rebellion’! It’s the last for the whole weekend!" Robbie answered, also dropping his bike.

She shook her head. "What happened to 'Heavenly Hash'?"

Stopping, Robbie gave her a blank stare. "Huh? Is that what Mom’s making for the weekend thing?"

She followed her nephew up the side door steps, just as Maggie-Ann returned to the back door. "Forget it," she said, turning to her sister. "What weekend thing?"

Robbie wiped his face with his shirt. "You know," he piped up, "the medieval fundraiser thing Mom’s volunteered us for."

Maggie-Ann pivoted quickly on the top step, but not quickly enough. Janet grabbed her younger sister by the waistband of her shorts. "What medieval fundraiser?"

Pressing away from Janet, Maggie-Ann cleared her throat. "Go into the gazebo, boys. Lunch is on the table."

Janet jerked her sister. "What medieval fundraiser?"

"Give me your suitcase. Is this all you brought?"

Janet swung it behind her back. "What play are you doing?"

"‘Much Ado About Nothing’," Maggie-Ann said.

"I thought it was ‘Twelfth Night’?" Janet asked.

"You’ve got me all mixed up. Let me call Tom."

Janet yanked her sister down onto the last step, glaring into her round face. "What are you up to?"

"Don’t growl, Janet. It’s just one weekend to help a boy from Prince Edward Island. He needs an operation..."

"A fundraiser!"

"Keep your voice down. It gets squeaky when you yell. The operation’s in Ontario-"

"So there’s no play and you wanted to wear my gowns to your Society for Creative Anarchy-"

"Anachronism," Maggie-Ann corrected smoothly. "You’ll look lovely as usual and a lot of people are counting on you and your gowns and all those titles you won..."

A strangled noise and the death grip on her sister's shorts were all Janet could manage.

"Let me go, Janet. You’re wrinkling my new shorts."

Trying to regain her control, she released her sister. "I’m not coming." How could Maggie-Ann do this?

Maggie-Ann tried to wrench the suitcase from her hand. "You have to! I put all those pic -- where are you going?"

Janet stomped down the driveway. "Back to Ottawa. Take the gowns, Maggie-Ann. Knock yourself out with them. I’ll be in Ottawa."

"Janet!" Maggie-Ann heaved her slightly chubby frame down the driveway, past her to drape herself dramatically over the open back door of Janet’s car. "What’s in Ottawa? Your fabric shop that’s on a street that’s being torn up? Do you think your customers will want to park blocks away and brave sewer smells just to buy a yard of cotton blend in last year’s prints?" She tried to spread herself out the full width of the doorway.

I’m surprised there is still room to get around you, Janet thought insensitively, you could stand to lose a few pounds. "I was Miss New Brunswick fourteen years ago! Fourteen long years ago."

Maggie-Ann smiled widely. "And you’re still gorgeous!"

"That’s one part of my life I’d rather forget," she said. More than forget, she added to herself.

"Why? Because it goes hand in hand with your politician friend, Hank, squiring you around from one campaign function to the next, telling everyone you were once Miss New Brunswick and runner up to Miss Canada?"

"You forgot Miss Salt Marshes of nineteen nine-"

"He was only raising political funds," Maggie-Ann scoffed. "We’re doing real charity work here!"

"You and that wacko society? Forget it!"

Maggie-Ann offered her a sad look. "Come on, Janet. Don’t you remember how we thought it would be romantic? Knights in shining armor, ladies of the court? We were going to get married in those gowns."

"You needed all of them, too, for the number of times you’ve married." She shoved Maggie-Ann out of her way. "Besides, you told me they were for a play!"

"I lied. Get over it."

How could she do this, Janet thought, still shoving. "Move."

Maggie-Ann held her ground. "No. What’s in Ottawa? Hank Milford?"

Janet stopped her shoving.

"Did you get back together with him?" Maggie-Ann leaned toward her ear.

Janet clenched her teeth. "Not in a million years."

"Smart girl. I divorced husband number one for fooling around with his assistant. It’s too bad you can’t get alimony."

"I wasn’t stupid enough to marry him."

"So why are you going back to Ottawa? You know all your mutual friends will be there." Maggie-Ann’s voice turned wheedling. "Alone at the Byward Market? Do you really want to explain why you’re not spending the summer recess in Calgary with your favorite Independent Member of Parliament, the Honorable Hank Milford?"

Janet glared at her. Maggie-Ann always knew where her tender spots were. Hank was independent, all right. Independent with his secretary, behind Janet’s back, until she walked in on them one day, while they were doing his ‘campaign platform’. Or were they doing it on his campaign platform? This was one of the reasons why she was here. She had no desire to spend the summer too timid to leave her apartment in case she met up with one of his friends. But she didn’t want to stay here in Sackville to be manipulated by Maggie-Ann, either.

"I hate you," she muttered to Maggie-Ann.

"That’s not very nice. As your younger sister, I could be scarred for life by your rejection."

"Get over it."

Maggie-Ann sidled out of the way and eased Janet’s suitcase out of her hand. "I’m only thinking of you. You’re just coming off of a bad break up and your fabric shop is inaccessible for two weeks. You may as well have some fun. Remember when we used to get dressed up for those Medieval Days? You have such beautiful dark hair, perfect for dressing up."

Janet glanced down at her sister’s hand, now draped casually over her shoulder, as Maggie-Ann guided them up toward the house. She said, "The last time I got involved with The Society, I ended up in the hospital getting my stomach pumped and you stole my cigarettes."

"I didn’t ask you to eat all those quince tarts and you know you aren’t allowed to smoke at these festivals."

"I only smoke two cigarettes a day, and you put my name down for the ‘quince tart eating contest’."

Maggie-Ann brushed it all away. "You should quit those weeds. Besides, it was for charity. We raised over $700.00! It was our first foray into fundraising and a lot of money back then."

"But I spent the next week in bed!"

"What are you complaining about? You lost ten pounds!"

"And I’ve put on twenty since! I don’t think I’d even fit into those gowns, anymore!" she said, surprised that Maggie-Ann hadn’t said something about that, too.

Maggie-Ann opened the side door that led into the kitchen and guided her sister inside. "So just have salad for lunch. You’ll look great when you go back to all your nosy friends in Ottawa. They’ll never know how much you’ve suffered for Hank."

Janet snatched back her suitcase. "I haven’t suffered." She hated when Maggie-Ann was right. Returning to Ottawa would be awful, just like her life was now. All she’d wanted was to relax and do a little moping.

All right, do a lot of moping.

She could mope anywhere. In fact, she could mope very well in Ottawa. She just didn’t want to.

As an afterthought, she poked Maggie-Ann in the shoulder, denting in the soft blue tee shirt she was wearing. "You used me! For my gowns and my title!"

"What can I say? I look great in the green velvet gown and you’ll knock the stockings off the men when they see you in that dusty rose one!" She made a short, whistling noise as she shook out her fingers.

"This isn’t a fashion show, Maggie-Ann! Most people put their outfits together on a budget. The only reason we had a better wardrobe was because I worked in a fabric shop. That’s half the reason I got so far in that pageant circuit, anyway. I sewed my own gowns, so I was a cheap contestant!" Feeling Maggie-Ann tuning her out, she let out a huff. "That’s it, I’m leaving."

She stopped, hearing someone call out at the end of the driveway. Maggie-Ann leaned out the door to wave, but Janet didn’t bother. Whoever it was just better get out of her way. Let her sister explain to them why she was so cranky.

Picking up her pace again, she marched down the steps, skidding to halt when she focused on the visitors for the first time.

A boy of about eleven was wheeling himself up the driveway, a blonde woman guiding his chair from the back. He stopped directly behind her car, looking hopefully up at her, a smile widening on his drawn features. Oh, hell.

Maggie-Ann slipped past Janet. "Kyle! Wendy! You’re just in time."

Just in time for what? Janet threw Maggie-Ann a glare, which was completely ignored as her sister tousled the boy’s hair. Behind them, the twins called out their own greeting.

"Is this your sister?" the boy asked Maggie-Ann. "The one in the pictures?"

Janet glared pointedly at Maggie-Ann. "What pictures?"

"Yes, it is, sweetie. Janet posed for those shots years ago when she belonged to ‘The Society’, to help raise money for the extended care unit at the hospital. It was just after she won Miss New Brunswick."

"Oh, those pictures," she muttered.

"They look great on the posters," Kyle continued, staring up at her in earnest from his wheelchair. "Everyone around town is looking at them and the newspaper put one on the front page this week. I bet we raise all kinds of money!" He twisted awkwardly around to beam at the slim woman behind him. "It’ll be super if we get enough for you to stay with me the whole time I’m in the hospital, eh, Mom?"

Janet felt herself slump. Oh, crap.

His mom smiled down at him and then both of them watched Janet expectantly. Maggie-Ann raised her eyebrows.

Great. Not only was this eating at her conscience, but the willowy blonde stood there smiling like Miss Congeniality, who, if bad memories served her correctly, also happened to beat her out for Miss Canada. Good grief, hadn’t she let that go, yet?

"Janet’s just arrived," Maggie-Ann began to chatter. "We thought she should stay with us tonight, because we’re all going out the site tomorrow afternoon.  Mom and Dad’s new place is too small for all of Janet’s gowns."

"They’re gorgeous," Wendy breathed over the head of her invalid son. "How can we thank you for all you’re doing?"

I hate you, Maggie-Ann. When did you get so crafty? Janet stared at the threesome in front of her, her heart sinking into a pit of regret. She couldn’t go back to Ottawa now. Even if she'd just spent the last three years playing the charitable beauty queen for the manipulative Hank Milford and was sick to death of power-abusing fundraisers.

Janet looked again at Maggie-Ann, over to Wendy and down at Kyle. The boy’s legs were short and twisted and he was wheezing from the exertion of pushing his wheelchair from wherever he came. Which was probably the other end of town, because they had no car, if she believed her guilt.

You are going to die, Maggie-Ann. "So, what brings you here?" she asked the two guests.

"Lunch. Maggie-Ann invited us," Wendy answered. "And Kyle wanted to meet the former Miss New Brunswick."

Kyle reddened. Janet planned her sister’s brutal murder. For immediately following this fundraiser weekend. It would be a slow, painful death. She'd force her into a hot, sticky gown and shove quinces down her throat...

"And this," Wendy continued, handing Maggie-Ann a sheet of paper. "It’s the food coordinator’s list of the extra groceries we need for Friday night."

"Wonderful!" Maggie-Ann said, shoving the grocery list at Janet’s chest, as she brushed past her to wheel Kyle up the driveway. "Janet’s just volunteered to drive Mom around to get it all. Come on, everything’s out in the gazebo, waiting for us. Just don’t eat all the salad. Janet’s on a diet."

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