Laura Norris was more than a little nervous about meeting Don’s mother for the first time; after all, Sigrid Wallace was a well-known actress. Back in the day, she’d been a world famous beauty and a super-star. As they approached the living room of the elegant beach house hand-in-hand, Laura observed that a heated discussion was in progress.
“Mother, I don’t see why you can’t part with some of your precious money, especially now when we need it so badly.” Although the chic woman speaking was well into her thirties, her voice was childishly petulant.
“I am not a bank. Elizabeth, I told you before; you’ll have it all to divide between the three of you when I’m gone.”
“That can’t be soon enough for me!” A glass of vodka sloshed uncertainly onto a mahogany end table as Elizabeth hurried from the parlor.
“Mother Wallace, please excuse Liz: she’s not herself today. Things have been tight for us financially of late.”
The well-groomed man spoke in a cultured but affected tone of voice. His manner was affable but patronizing. “Confidentially, my investments have plummeted.”
“What investments would that be? Jeffrey, you and my daughter lead frivolous lives, always partying and jet-setting. You’ve gone through my daughter’s trust fund. It’s time you settled down and worked for a living.”
Jeffrey lifted an accusatory finger. “Don’t tell me how to live my life.”
“Then don’t ask me for money.”
As Jeffrey stormed past, his veneer of sophistication worn thin, Laura looked to Don Wallace who held her hand firmly. “Maybe this isn’t the best time,” she said hesitantly.
“There’s never a best time to meet Mother.” His dark brown eyes, warm as toast, sparkled reassuringly. He led Laura into the elegant Victorian parlor, his hand holding her elbow supportively, and introduced her to the legendary Sigrid Wallace.
Sigrid scrutinized her. “You’re an attractive young woman—in a conservative sort of way.”
Laura blushed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I saw you on Broadway a few years ago and was moved by your performance.”
Sigrid’s heavily made-up face broke into a smile. “These days people only think of me as a character actress in the movies, but I am actually proudest of my work in the theatre.”
“What? Aren’t you most proud of your children?”
Laura turned to the speaker, a striking honey-blond who resembled Sigrid in facial features.
“My sister Marilyn,” Don told Laura.
“Mother named Liz and I after her favorite Hollywood actresses. Isn’t that so, Mommy dearest?”
Sigrid did not reply, instead turning to the man sitting beside Marilyn. “Reverend James, I expect you will have a good influence on my wayward younger daughter.”
Marilyn inhaled deeply on a cigarette. “Will is my spiritual advisor, Mommy, and also my friend, but he’s not my keeper. However, if it’s any comfort to you, Will and I agree that I’ve been married three times too many. Next time, it’ll be different.” She gave the reverend a meaningful glance.
“Let’s hope so. You have an unfortunate tendency to choose the worst men, and I always have to pick up the pieces.”
Marilyn’s features became an unattractive mottled purple. “Maybe if you’d had time for me when I was a child, things would be different!”
“Nonsense, I was a wonderful mother.”
“All you ever thought about was yourself, your career. You never cared about any of us, not even Daddy.” Marilyn burst into angry tears and also left the room.
Laura felt embarrassed and awkward; she looked at Don who shrugged nonchalantly as if to say that such outbursts were not uncommon or unexpected here.
“Marilyn is following in Mother’s footsteps, intent on an acting career. She can be histrionic at times,” Don said. “Marilyn is like a character in a soap opera. No, make that a reality show.”
Reverend James shrugged, appearing to take Marilyn’s behavior in stride, just as Sigrid had.” “She’ll be all right. We’ve been talking.”
Laura found him to be a pale, insipid man with watery, myopic blue eyes.
“You’re a good fellow, William James—any relation to the W.J. by the way?” Sigrid inquired.
He shook his head.