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Introducing the Tea Ladies

April 25, 2020

Consider the Lilly is the book that introduced the Tea Ladies, six elderly women who set the tone of Riverview Manor, the retirement community where they live. I would say that I enjoyed creating them but, to tell the truth, I didn’t have a lot to do with their creation. They pretty much stood on my shoulders and told me who they were, what they would and would not do. At any rate, writing about them was a hoot. I can only hope readers have half as much fun reading about them.

About the story: Jennie Connor’s friend, Lilly, is in big trouble. Two patrons are poisoned while dining at her restaurant.  The police are busy with crowd control and don’t notice a shadowy figure climb down the arbor and slip away.  Jennie watches and wonders if Lilly’s daughter, Jasmine, is up to her usual teenage mischief.  Or is it something more sinister? 

While the press focuses on one of the victims, Phillip Jeffries, a junior high principal who’s made a lot of enemies during his career, Jennie learns that the other victim, teacher Leonard Atkinson, has his own dirty little secret. Jennie tries to sort it out, aided and abetted by the Tea Ladies. 

Here’s how the story begins:

Chapter One 

“Our stuff’s gonna be cold.”
     “Lilly’ll keep it warm for us.”
     “But we’re starving.”
     “You’re not starving.  You’re bored.”
     “You can say that again.”  Tommy put in his two cents. Up to now he’d let Andy do the whining for both of them.
     Jennie fed the last page of the report into the copier before she turned to her sons: nine-year-old Tommy and seven-year-old Andy. “Just a couple more minutes.  Then we’ll–”  
     Running footsteps sounded in the corridor.  Dr. Woodrow Samson flashed by.  Jennie sent up a prayer that Riverview’s elderly residents were all okay.  She had to know.  A glance at the machine told her the report was copied, just needed collating.
     “Tell you what, guys.  Help me gather my stuff and we’re outta here. I can finish at home.” 
She stopped at the desk.  “Woody passed the conference room in a rush. Everybody okay?”
     “Everybody here’s fine.  Something’s going on at Lilly’s though.”
Flashes of red, then blue, assaulted Jennie’s senses when she opened the door. She squinted against the dizzying succession of color and tried to get an unobstructed view of the restaurant across the alley. She looked at the kids. “You guys wait inside.”
     Maybe they didn’t hear. She knew that’s what they’d say.  At any rate, both boys darted past her, down the ramp leading to the parking lot. 
     Jennie caught up and grabbed them before they could cross the alley. “Hey, I said, ‘Wait.'”
     Andy, mesmerized by the swirling lights, didn’t comment.
Tommy tried to wiggle free, arguing, “You need us to help carry the stuff.”
      Jennie fought the impulse to rush over and check on Lilly. She glanced at the kids.  Maybe she could leave them at the desk with Karen.  Would they stay put?  Can’t risk it.
     She kept a firm hand on each boy’s shoulder and studied the commotion.
     Emergency personnel were shoving a gurney into an ambulance. A uniformed cop stood between the ambulance and a row of cars snugged against the back of the restaurant.  Across the lot, a Memphis police car blocked the exit. Another officer stood by the vehicle. Dozens of people milled about, alternately watching the activity around the ambulance and darting furtive glances toward the police.
     Jennie scanned faces, searching for Lilly Wainwright, co-owner and manager of the restaurant, and, more important, a close friend.  She spotted Ward Norris, Lilly’s self-appointed protector, but there was no sign of Lilly.  She looked toward the ambulance.  Was Lilly on that gurney?  One of her kids?  I have to find out.
     She kept a tight grip on her boys and approached the entrance to the parking lot.
     The policeman stepped forward, but didn’t speak.  He stood, arms akimbo, shaking his head.
     Jennie tried to explain. “That’s my friend’s restaurant.  I need to know if she’s okay.”
     “Sorry.” He was a squat, burly man, shorter than Jennie’s five foot, seven inches, but somehow managed to convey the feeling he was looking down on her small family.
     Tommy piped up, “What happened?”
     “Nothing that concerns you.”  The cop’s manner alarmed Jennie more than the emergency vehicles.
     A van with a TV station’s familiar blue and yellow logo rolled up.  A petite woman and a large man with an elaborate camcorder hopped out. Jennie recognized reporter Jill Newton.
     Apparently the cop did, too. The would-be Napoleon set his hat straight and tucked in his shirt before he sauntered toward the new arrivals.
     Jennie took advantage of the distraction to edge closer.
     The crowd parted and another gurney rolled out. A substantial female figure kept pace with the emergency workers who were maneuvering the gurney.
      There’s Lilly. Jennie expelled a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. At least it’s not her in the ambulance.  She tried to read the situation by watching Lilly.  She couldn’t make out words, but her friend’s posture and the movement of her hands said plenty.  This is serious.  One of the girls?  Jennie sent up a silent prayer, Please no, and gripped her sons’ hands tighter.
      The thought of Lilly’s daughters prompted Jennie to look toward the living quarters above the restaurant. A wide porch ran along the building’s second story.  Flood lights, directed into the parking lot, left the porch in shadow.  Something in the dim space behind the illuminated area caught her eye. A slender outline passed in front of one of the windows.
      Jasmine?  Probably.  What’s she up to? 
      Jennie used her hand to block the glare of the overheard lights and watched the silhouette glide forward, peer over the railing, move back, hesitate, then inch along, keeping flat against the wall.  At the porch’s edge, the apparition climbed over the railing and disappeared.
      Jennie looked toward the sturdy wooden arbor covering the brick sidewalk that led from the parking lot to the main entrance in front. Her view was blocked, but she could guess what was happening. Jasmine’s sneaking out. Should I tell Lilly?  Jennie hated to do anything to fuel the already fiery relationship between mother and daughter.  On the other hand– If it were my sixteen-year-old—
If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you’ll find it here:
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