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Excerpt from Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ella In Bloom

by Shelby Hearon

Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon X
Ella In Bloom by Shelby Hearon
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2001, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2002, 272 pages

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But after I got off the phone, I'd realized that the fact was she didn't want him, this Mr. Emu, to see me. Didn't want to be embarrassed by her tatty younger sister. If she'd gone up a notch in her marriage from where we came from (the history professor daddy and the gardening mother), then I'd gone down a notch or two in my scrambling solo life. I could see that one of the advantages of a secret lover was that he didn't have to meet your kin.

So I did exactly what she asked for. In the same manner that I now wrote letters to my mother, practically coming to believe them myself, so I carefully built up all the details of a wonderful weekend reunion with my sister Terrell. I sent her photos to show around of 'my' pink-painted cottage on one of Old Metairie's nicest magnolia-shaded streets, the sort of house - with white picket fence, white shutters on the floor-to-ceiling windows, pots of waxy white Cape jasmine by the door - to which my mother could point with pride. The sort of home, classy but not large, dear but not overpriced, in which a sociable young widow might live a pleasant life in the Deep South. I wrote describing a late supper in a French restaurant called the Pink Cafe, where I had never eaten; early communion at the old Episcopal church, because Mother loved old churches, modeled stone by stone after St. Bartolph's in Cambridge, England, that I often drove by; and a benefit high tea in the rose gardens at historic Belle Vue, whose grounds I did know well.

I constructed that weekend never dreaming that I would be called upon to repeat the story again and again at my sister's funeral. That I would have to recount to everyone where we went, what we saw, our breakfasts of fresh strawberries and cream on my pink patio, looking out at my walled summer garden.

Telling all this to her husband had been the very worst. My parents were too stunned, too staggered by their grief, to be able to listen for long. My mother had to hold herself together, straight and composed, for her daughter's friends; my daddy had to make coffee and apple kuchen for the remnants of family. But my old friend Red was someone I had never lied to, was the one person in my past I could always come to with the whole (unsavory, shocking, or ordinary) truth. And he was the one who seemed to hang on my words. No longer the law student I remembered, with horn-rim glasses, shaggy dark hair, white shirts with the sleeves rolled up above his elbows, corduroy pants, usually with a casebook under his arm, as if to prove he was what he claimed to be. He still sat, intent, the way he used to, leaning forward, his forearms on his knees, but now in a well-tailored black suit, good shoes, an expensive haircut, discreet contact lenses. His once-tanned face had been blanched with shock and his once-voluble conversation muted, but, still, after his subdued greeting, 'Hello, Ella,' he'd stayed close, listening while I retold the tale of the weekend reunion in Old Metairie. Hearing my daddy lean down and say, 'I'm glad you daughters had a get-together.' His eyes wet. Hearing my mother, wearing winter white, the mourning of another era, say to a friend, her voice shaking slightly, 'The girls had such a nice visit, only last summer.'

And all the time wondering what my sister had told them. And wondering, too, if anyone else knew who she'd been going to see that bitter January when her little chartered Piper Cherokee went down in the sleet.

Excerpted from Ella in Bloom by Shelby Hearon Copyright 1/1/01 by Shelby Hearon. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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