Lipstick on the Strawberry
Estranged from her English family, Camilla Fetherwell now lives in the United States and owns a successful catering business. Returning home for her father's funeral, she reunites with her first love, Billy, whom she hasn't seen since her father broke up their teenage romance. Billy seems eager to resume their love affair. But after one blissful night together, things take a turn.
Camilla suspects her father may have led a secret life, and when Billy reveals something he, too, has discovered, her apprehension grows. Billy holds her heart, but their relationship might be tainted by what her father hid. A reunion seems impossible.
Her life feels as splattered as her catering apron. As she watches her food stylist make a strawberry look luscious with a swipe of lipstick, Camilla wonders if a gloss has been put over a family secret? Can she and Billy survive what's underneath?
Tilda sighed. “Today we have to get all the papers, books, records. All the investments have to be valued on the date of death. Later, we can go through the furniture. It’s a process, Rupert says. Can take some months. I’ll just pop upstairs.” Tilda was already at the door, her hand on the knob.
“I’ll go through Mummy’s desk and office. It shouldn’t take long.”
My usual efficiency deserted me as I watched Tilda’s thin back ascending the stairs. Within minutes she was down again, holding a plastic box.
“Can you open this? It’s jammed.”
I took the box from her and tried its snap-on lock. It seemed to be glued. A kitchen knife stood in a block before me, I lifted it, and swiped the plastic lock. It snapped back like a jack-in-the-box, but no little toy man leapt up. Inside the box, a stack of floppy disks layered themselves in a diagonal pile. I flipped through the plastic squares in their little white paper sleeves.
“People store the oddest things in their cupboards.” Tilda peered at the box.
“They may be important. Who knows? Let’s ask Geoffrey to have a look at them. At work, he must have access to all that ancient technology. It makes you think, doesn’t it, that paper storage is probably the best way to keep records.”
“Yes. These can’t be more than twenty years old and they’ve already become a mystery.” Tilda slapped a post-it note on the box and marked it “Give to Geoffrey.”
“I’ll tackle Daddy’s library,” I said.
Frederick Fetherwell’s study looked like Sherlock Holmes’ receiving rooms. A fireplace dominated one wall, with brimming bookshelves on either side. Two mahogany chairs covered in green velvet sat in front of a cluttered desk, and a chaise longue took up the length of the wall under the window. Underneath, a floral pattern meandered on a faded carpet under the desk and ended in front of the fireplace fender.
I scanned the books quickly, and finding none of the slightest interest, tackled the desk, plastic bag in hand. Bills, tax records, files, I scraped up and put them in the bag. I found a writing pad and a pen and wrote, For Rupert, estate materials, slapped the page onto the bag with sticky tape and tied it shut.
I pulled open a drawer. Another jumble, pens, rubber bands, stamps. Frederick Fetherwell’s passport, which was about to expire. I put that aside. Tilda might want it. The drawer’s companion on the other side of the desk held much the same miscellanea. I felt my armpits getting hot with impatience. How could such an accomplished person leave such a disorganized mess, yet leave so little impression of his personality?
My fingers searched the back of the drawer and felt something glossy. I pulled, and saw in my hand a colored photograph of a woman who looked to be about the age I was now. She had hair the color of fallen leaves. Only the woman’s shoulders were visible below the head. Her blue and green scarf reflected the color of her laughing eyes. In the background was the blurred green of a field. I flicked the photo over. The penciled initials N.B. were the only notation.
A cold prickle ran down my back as I stared at it.
I tucked the photo into my pocket. How peculiar was it to find this woman’s image stuffed in the back of a drawer? Daddy had gone to pains to hide the picture.
In one hand, I lifted the plastic bags of trash, picked up the passport in the other, and went to find Tilda.
“Would you mind if I went home and rested?” I asked. “I feel a headache coming on.”
“Yes, of course. What did you find in there? Oh, good, Daddy’s passport. I’d like to keep that. How thoughtful of you. Anything else of interest?”
I turned so Tilda couldn’t see and fingered the pocketed photo. The letters N.B. intrigued me. Was this just the acronym to remind our father of something important? Or did it mean something else?
“No,” I said and hurried toward the door.