Home > Open Season(6)

Open Season(6)
Author: Linda Howard

“You’re pathetic,” she told her reflection, and this time her tone was angry. Cosmetic changes weren’t going to be enough.

She had to do something drastic.

Two gaily wrapped boxes were sitting on the kitchen table when Daisy went downstairs. Her mother had made Daisy’s favorite breakfast, pecan pancakes; a cup of coffee gently steamed beside the plate, waiting for her, which meant her mother had listened for her footsteps on the stairs before pouring the coffee. Tears stung her eyes as she stared at her mother and aunt; they were really two of the sweetest people in the world, and she loved them dearly.

“Happy birthday!” they both chimed, beaming at her.

“Thank you,” she said, managing a smile. At their urging, she sat down in her usual place and quickly opened the boxes. Please, God, not more seersucker, she silently prayed as she folded back the white tissue from her mother’s gift. She was almost afraid to look, afraid she wouldn’t be able to control her expression if it was seersucker—or flannel. Flannel was almost as bad.

It was . . . well, it wasn’t seersucker. Relief escaped in a quiet little gasp. She pulled the garment out of the box and held it up. “It’s a robe,” said her mother, as if she couldn’t see what it was.

“I. . . it’s so pretty,” Daisy said, getting teary-eyed again because it really was pretty—well, prettier than she had expected. It was just cotton, but it was a nice shade of pink, with a touch of lace around the collar and sleeves.

“I thought you needed something pretty,” her mother said, folding her hands.

“Here,” said Aunt Joella, pushing the other box toward Daisy. “Hurry up, or your pancakes will get cold.”

“Thank you, Mama,” Daisy said as she obediently opened the other box and peered at the contents. No seersucker here, either. She touched the fabric, lightly stroking her fingertips over the cool, sleek finish.

“Real silk,” Aunt Joella said proudly as Daisy pulled out the full-length slip. “Like I saw Marilyn Monroe wear in a movie once.”

The slip looked like something from the nineteen forties, both modest and sexy, the kind of thing daring young women wore as party dresses these days. Daisy had a mental image of herself sitting at a dressing table brushing her hair and wearing nothing but this elegant slip; a tall man came up behind her and put his hand on her bare shoulder. She tilted her head back and smiled at him, and he slowly moved his hand down under the silk, touching her breast as he bent to kiss her . . .

“Well, what do you think?” Aunt Joella asked, jerking Daisy out of her fantasy

“It’s beautiful,” Daisy said, and one of the tears she had been blinking back escaped to slide down her cheek. “You two are so sweet—”

“Not that sweet,” Aunt Joella interrupted, frowning at the tear. “Why are you crying?”

“Is something wrong?” her mother asked, reaching over to touch her hand.

Daisy drew a deep breath. “Not wrong. Just—I had an epiphany.”

Aunt Jo, who was sharper than any tack, shot her a narrow-eyed look. “Boy, I bet that hurt.”

“Jo.” Sending her sister an admonishing glance, Daisy’s mother took her daughter’s hands in hers. “Tell us what’s wrong, honey.”

Daisy took a deep breath, both to work up her courage and to control her tears. “I want to get married.”

The two sisters both blinked, and looked at each other, then back at her.

“Well, that’s wonderful,” her mother said. “To whom?”

“That’s the problem,” Daisy said. “No one wants to marry me.” Then the deep breath stopped working, and she had to bury her face in her hands to hide the way her unruly tear ducts were leaking.

There was a small silence, and she knew they were looking at each other again, communicating in that mental way sisters had.

Her mother cleared her throat. “I’m not quite certain I understand. Is there someone in particular to whom you’re referring?”

Bless her mother’s heart, she was an English teacher to the core. She was the only person Daisy knew who actually said whom—well, except for herself. The acorn hadn’t fallen far from the mother oak. Even when her mother was upset, her phrasing remained exact.

Daisy shook her head, and wiped the tears away so she could face them again. “No, I’m not suffering from unrequited love. But I want to get married and have babies before I get too old, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I make some major changes.”

“What sort of major changes?” Aunt Jo asked warily.

“Look at me!” Daisy indicated herself from head to foot. “I’m boring, and I’m mousy. Who’s going to look at me twice? Even poor Wally Herndon wasn’t interested. I have to make some major changes to me.”

She took a deep breath. “I need to spruce myself up. I need to make men look at me. I need to start going places where I’m likely to meet single men, such as nightclubs and dances.” She paused, expecting objections, but was met with only silence. She took another deep breath and blurted out the biggie: “I need to get my own place to live.” Then she waited.

Another sisterly glance was exchanged. The moment stretched out, and Daisy’s nerves stretched along with it. What would she do if they strenuously objected? Could she hold out against them? The problem was that she loved them and wanted them to be happy, she didn’t want to upset them or make them ashamed of her.

They both turned back to her with identical broad smiles on their faces.

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