Clara and Victoria.

A snippet of the novel I am writing … “I’m a writer.” Clara felt like a liar and an imposter stating that as her profession as if she belonged in the category of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She just noticed The Great Gatsby on the elaborately beach-themed summer reading table designed to catch the eye of a high school or college student. Especially “1902,” the prestigious and notable, Manhattan bookstore, it seemed pretentious to say something so sacred. The Vanderbilt’s designed and lived in the cavernous house from 1902 until 1925 when a private buyer whom no one claims to know bought the house, turned it into a “members-only library and lady’s social scene” by 1926. The gentleman bequeathed it to his only niece with enormous resources to maintain its existence when in 1956 another undisclosed secret family descendant transformed the house into what is now a world-wide destination bookstore for artists of every genre, serious bibliophiles and fans of the history and the dramatic feeling of the old marble and Gilded Age. Every inch of the building and its entire history spoke to Clara as if ghostly voices called her to return there at least once a week to replenish her soul. It was a beautiful business if a business could be considered beautiful. Ironically, Clara thought, F. Scott Fitzgerald never stepped into this house, yet his name is spoken in a god-like sense here.Victoria watched Clara quietly with her thoughts. “You’re a writer, it’s obvious. You cradle your journal in your arms and hold it against you and that silver pencil is an extension of your long fingers. Somehow, as lovely as you are, you manage to enhance this old, beaux arts house and in return, it enhances you. How very comfortable you are here as if you come from this period.”Clara warmed immediately. The young girl knew her. She also noted her journal was resting on her breasts with her arms crossed over it, protecting the white, leather book. Victoria was astute and correct. The journal, a find at an estate sale, was one of Clara’s treasures and the old, ornate building, still impeccable and majestic, was exactly where Clara and her journal belonged. Once, Lena told Clara that she added a bit more gilding to the space as if it were possible.Clara self-corrected, “I’m not a professional writer. I’m an aspiring writer or more like a hopeful writer. I’ve been told I write well by my classmates at the Manhattan Literary Arts School. I take classes there once a week in the spring and fall.” Clara told Victoria this information as if she were confiding a secret. She was not sure why she continued to take the novel writing classes. Of course it will only amount to a pastime. Clara was pensive for a moment until Victoria spoke in her lovely, but youthful tone.“How exciting! What are you working on? A murder-mystery, a historical fiction, an epic love story? You must tell me. I’m dying to know!” I have a friend who met JK Rowling once and she said meeting a writer is a magical experience.“Yes,” Clara smiled with closed lips, a blush on her cheeks and a bit of water in her blue eyes. “A very epic love story that doesn’t seem as delightful as you perceive it at the moment and I’m not quite sure I am magical, but thank you for the vote of confidence. If you want to experience magic, wander this building and imagine it in all its time.” Clara seriously arched her left eyebrow and the smile left her lips quickly indicating she was in deep thought and momentarily somewhere dark and not pleasant.“There you are my love!” A happy, smooth, British voice woke Clara from her thoughts. “We’ve been searching for you and of course you have made a beautiful friend,” said the very charming and proper, yet much older Englishman who kissed Victoria gently on her left cheek. It was obvious Victoria adored him and he was enormously proud of her, yet Clara wasn’t certain she understood the relationship. Intrigued, she tried to keep up with the story of the British girl and the British gentleman in the legendary bookstore that she was now somehow entangled in.At first, Clara wasn’t certain she really cared to know more about the tourists. It was Manhattan and they are annoyingly everywhere. She intended to spend the afternoon reading and writing and had little patience for more frivolous conversation. She already shared too much with this stranger yet something reminded her of the time the manse was used as a social club. Perhaps, she could experience a bit of that today. Yet, very quickly, now back from the unhappy places her mind took her when she spoke of her writing and the classes she took, Clara’s full attention brought shock when it registered that Victoria’s companion was entirely too old for her. Suddenly, she couldn’t control her facial features and her blank, lost smile became a hideous sight as her mouth hung open. Clara’s eyes opened wide as she was startled while a stream of thoughts screamed in her head. She became keenly aware of her own sense of propriety and was and offended. Propriety for Clara was on the surface. Beneath the ladylike façade, she was a bit wild.What the fuck? He’s old enough to be her father! Obviously the perfect explanation as to how a young woman owns a hat shop in a fashionable part of London. She’s quite the entrepreneur, but not very original. He isn’t totally offensive for an older man. Well-groomed and well-off in appearance, he’s traditional and modern without looking like a total jack-ass. He explains her designer wardrobe, costly bracelets, the statement bag and new hat shop.  Oh, good for her, he’ll be dead soon and she’ll have a lovely, little hat shop and jewelry to sell. Yet, she still has to have sex with him. Seriously, he must be in his late fifties! How old could she be, twenty-five? Honestly, if she were thirty-five I might be able to accept this situation, but twenty-five? A more experienced woman could handle him, even satisfy his needs, but a girl? I can appreciate that he is well-groomed, relatively fit and handsome in a somewhat rough, but dignified way. He is certainly not average, but not gorgeous either and doesn’t appear his age. What is it? Sexy, yes, he’s sexy and that is so rare and so compelling for a woman my age. Is it the accent? No, not enough to carry him. Wait! What does she care about his accent? She is British! For fuck’s sake, I’m the one seduced by the accent. What the hell am I thinking? He’s sexy? I’ve noticed his body? Apparently, I’ve noticed too much about him. I’m going to be ill! This imaginary story stops immediately. I don’t care about these people and their peculiar relationship.  Why do I care?  Clara’s head was spinning. She thought she was modern, but couldn’t identify what particularly aggravated her sense of decency when she saw this young, inexperienced woman with this older man. It was obvious, Victoria needed bank and he needed sex.Apparently, Clara’s inner dialogue was intense since she had no comprehension of what the British man was speaking to her about. “The manse is circa 1900, he asked. 1902, correct Clara? Clara, are you well?”“Yes, built in the Gilded Age. 1902, hence the name.”A handsome young man came up from behind Victoria with several books.“There you are Vic! I swear you never stay in one spot. I am constantly losing you and we’re not even married one year. Dad and I were searching for you. Good that he found you; this building is a puzzle.” The handsome young man turned his attention toward Clara with a beautiful smile.“Hello. Please accept my sincerest apologies. Maximillian Miller, Vic’s … I mean Victoria’s husband. Are you acquaintances?Clara thought she would pass out at this point of shock. She was still having an internal dialogue with herself pondering what she would tell her therapist. If her mouth wasn’t still hanging open all this time, it certainly fell agape in the most embarrassing way as she stared at Maximillian in shock.Oh my God! He’s her father in law. Yes, there’s a resemblance between the two men. Maximillian is younger, less experienced, a less lived version of his father. I’m ridiculous! I’ve assumed lovely Victoria is the equivalent of a whore. I do need an appointment with Dr. Renner. I am embarrassed and I definitely hate him! Such a pompous ass leading me to believe he was entangled with this young woman. I’m done here. I am not the bookstore’s social director or tour guide. Victoria has a husband her own age and I do not need new friends. Victoria kissed her husband on the lips and started speaking excitedly. “Max, this is Clara, she’s a writer. We just met and she complimented my hat! I could be a famous milliner here in the States. Perhaps dress celebrities or open my own store on Fifth Avenue or in SoHo? What do you think? Shall we move to America? Max smiled and listened intently.Victoria was charming and light. Her air of propriety disappeared and there stood in front of Clara a young bride who simply loved her husband and fashion and was thrilled to meet an American woman who admired her craft. Victoria was beautiful and as classic as her hat. There was nothing pretentious about her; she was creative, real and very sincere.Clara, realizing her idiocy, immediately closed her mouth, licked her lips, straightened her loose bun and found her long lost composure. Finally out of her head, she returned to her world, her bookstore, her favorite city.“Hello, Mr. Miller,” Clara said as she extended her hand to shake his. “Your wife is delightful. I never strike up conversations with strangers, but her hat caught my attention. She is very talented and a pleasure to speak with. I assume you are all here on holiday so I’ll leave you to your exploration of this wonderful piece of New York history. Best wishes with your business, Victoria. My pleasure meeting you all.”

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