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"Character is a commodity best set off by tasteful clothes, refined speech, and dignified carriage. Any good merchandiser knows that the wrapping is a preview of the gift inside." --Grace Dorian, from an interview with Barbara Walters
Grace Dorian stared in bewilderment at the papers on her desk. She had no idea how they had gotten there, had no idea what they were for.
She riffled the stack, searching for hints. Not papers. Letters. Some were handwritten, some typed, some on white letterhead, colored stationery, torn notebook paper.
"Dear Grace . . . "
"Dear Grace . . . "
"Dear Grace . . . "
Think, she cried, fighting panic. People were writing her letters, lots of people, judging from the courier pack that stood open on the chair. It brimmed with more of what she had on her desk. They were there for a reason.
She put a hand to her chest and willed herself to stay calm. The heel of her hand pressed her thudding heart. Her fingertips touched beads.
Rosary beads? No. Not rosary beads. Pearls, Grace. Pearls.
Frightened eyes cast about for the familiar, lighting on the mahogany credenza, the velvet drapes, the brocade settee, the burnished brass lamps. The lamps were off now. It was morning. Sun spilled across the Aubusson.
Shakily she fitted her reading glasses to her nose, praying that if she studied the letters long enough, hard enough, something would click. She noted return addresses--Morgan Hill, California, Burley, Alabama, Little River, South Carolina, Parma, Ohio. People were writing her from across the country. And she was in . . . here was . . . she lived in . . . Connecticut. There, over the rim of her glasses, scripted elegantly on an antique map on the wall. Setting the glasses aside, she crossed to the map, touched the gilded frame, took comfort in its solidness and, yes, its familiarity.
She lived in western Connecticut, on the sprawling estate left her by John. The original house had been in his family for nearly as many generations as the old sawmill had. The sawmill was silent now, craggy with vines and as bent as John in his final years, but what time had taken from the mill, it had given to the house. Initially a single stone homestead facing west, it had grown a north wing, then a south wing. A garage had sprouted and multiplied. The back of the house had swollen to include a suite of offices, the largest of which she stood in now, and the solarium. Beyond the solarium was the patio she adored, flagstoned and April-bare, but promising. It opened to a rolling lawn beyond which, framed by firs, lay the Housatonic. In late summer it meandered along the eastern edge of her property. This time of year it rushed. She could hear it even now, through the mullioned panes.
These things were familiar. And the other? She glanced anxiously at the door before reaching again for her glasses.
"Dear Grace, I've been reading your column for almost twenty years, but this is the first time I've written. My daughter is getting married next fall, but my ex-husband says that if she wants him to give her away, the children from his second marriage have to be in the wedding party. There are five of them. They are all under ten and unruly, and they've been awful to my daughter . . . "
"Dear Grace, You have to settle an argument between my boyfriend and me. He says that the first guy a girl sleeps with shapes her insides to him, so it's never as good with another guy . . . "
"Dear Grace, Some of the letters you print are too far-fetched to be real . . . "
Shades of GraceBy: Barbara Delinsky