Chocolate Kisses Ch. 02bycalibeachgirl©
Copyright @ calibeachgirl
All rights reserved, 2011
Monday, December 14th, 1931
James Ewart's home
El Segundo, California
Eliza served breakfast and settled into her chair at the other end of the table next to the high chair that mysteriously appeared sometime during the night. It was well-used but well-loved. Someone's child...
Bethany Rose sat next to James as if she was entitled. He said nothing while he ate but occasionally glanced at her with a slight smile. Eliza stared at Bethany... her own sister 'cuddling up' to a white man they actually knew nothing about except he had money, a nice house and something happened to shut him off from the rest of the world.
While serving the food, she tried to ignore James' knee pressed up against Bethany's. Why was she obsessing with this? Whatever was going on... it was Bethany Rose's business, not hers. Was she jealous of her own sister? Did she want James for herself? She started to look at him in a different way...
The radio was full of news about the Japanese invading China, someplace called Jehol. Who cares, Eliza thought, it was a world away, why should America care? There was enough problems right here to worry about.
Eliza took all this in, especially the bright, almost new green dress her sister was now wearing and the string of pearls that magically appeared around her neck.
Bethany Rose had become the man's mistress, of that she was jealously sure. Mistress... a high-priced whore... but, he was doing right by them, if that was the case. She, herself, had found ten impossibly wonderful dresses on a chair outside her bedroom door this morning.
Wasn't any woman working in a man's house prostituting herself? Maybe, not in the obvious way, but just the same... what would you call replacing the wife's duties?
In that, she knew she had also fallen into thinking that of herself. With the extra income now that she was officially working and the advantages of living within his household, they would do all right.
At least, there was no miserable white woman telling her what to do and how to do it... those that never did a lick of work were always the 'experts.' In any household, the worse thing for a colored woman was a white woman.
Eliza was glad when they left, having to watch them act like that. Shameless... and still she found herself becoming aroused again, thinking of him and her sister, thinking of him and just her...
She turned the radio to music... Dream a little dream of me... Ozzie Nelson singing...
It came to her that even though Bethany Rose called him 'James,' she was still calling him Mr. Ewart. Just as well... didn't want him to get any ideas about her. She wasn't a tramp... like her sister seemed to be. Going away to college and thinking she was better than...
Eliza stared out the window. How could she think of her sister like that? If it wasn't for her, they'd still be living in that firetrap of a house trying to find something to eat. Whatever Bethany Rose was doing, Eliza vowed that moment to say nothing ever again and be grateful for what came their way... whatever came her way.
This morning, James thought, should be interesting.
Sam was by the door as they arrived and promptly relocked it. He wasn't surprised that James brought the colored woman with him. Even in the short time he was at James' house he could see there was something going on with them.
The entire staff was waiting around the front of the store, wondering just what was going to happen now. Word of yesterday's events had already spread throughout town.
The shock of seeing a colored woman with James caused a momentary series of comments for the rest of them but it quickly faded away as they quickly realized they were easily replaceable.
"This is Miss Bethany Rose Carrolton. Last night, she spent considerable time trying to find ways to save money without anyone losing their job."
That caught their attention and whatever grumbling there was seeing a colored woman quickly died out.
"Thanks to Miss Carrolton, we found a way to give everyone a raise of 10 cents an hour."
There was a stunned silence followed by some talk. Whatever prejudices the people had were being forgotten, at least for the moment. James knew it was going to be difficult for every one but hoped Bethany Rose was strong enough to handle it. He raised his hand, quieting them down.
"Miss Carrolton is the new office manager. She will meet with each one of you during this week and adjust your schedule, if necessary. She will have the final say. Does everyone understand that?" Let's see how you like that.
The response was subdued, but expected.
"All right, everybody, let's get those door open and make some money."
James turned to Susan. Blonde, blue-eyed Susan, everything that Bethany Rose wasn't... trying to grab him for a couple of years now...
"Please see Miss Carrolton now; bring the work schedule with you. I'll keep down here."
"Yes, sir." Susan hurried up the stairs to find Bethany Rose looking at the broken door.
"That's from last night," she said, as if that explained everything. In a way, it did. The violent retake of what was rightfully his.
"If it's all the same with you, I'd like to stand until this room is cleaned. It smells funny and it needs a door."
Susan had to laugh. She saw what Bill had been doing right before his nose was broken. Smells funny, all right, smells like nasty sex...
"Is there another room we can use?" Bethany now recognized the smell. It smelled like Henry when he came back from his whoring around.
The two women stood side by side looking at the schedule. If it bothered Susan to be so close to a colored woman, she kept it to herself. At least the room didn't smell.
They began comparing sales volume and total income to the number of people working.
"After it happened," Susan said, "that's when Bill started taking more and more control of the daily activities. Mr. Ewart kinda stayed to himself. He didn't care anymore about anything.
"I guess that's changed now, after yesterday and all." It was insane and exciting all at the same time. She didn't know aroused her more: seeing Bill fucking that cute little girl from produce or James kicking in the door and kicking Bill's ass. Too bad about the girl, though, just married and all... there's going to be trouble tonight at that house... unless she just shuts up. How long had that been going on, anyway?
"After what happened?"
"Why, the murders... I thought you knew. It was in all the papers. His two children were kidnapped by two..."
"Two what?" Bethany rose knew the answer to that, otherwise, why the hesitation?
"...two colored men four years ago."
Bethany Rose could feel the disgust coming from Susan when she said 'colored.' There never was going to be an end to it, was there? No matter what...
"I didn't know... I didn't have anything to do with it. You can't blame all of us for what some do. There's evil white men, too."
Susan was surprised at the woman's directness. It was the first time she ever spoke with a colored woman and it wasn't at all like she expected. There was nothing neither servile nor illiterate about her. As a matter of fact, Susan realized, her English is better than mine.
"I guess... you're right. I'm sorry, it's just that... it was so horrible... they... raped his wife. After the ransom was paid, they still killed the two little girls and dumped their bodies in a field. Those two little girls... they were only eight and ten and they used them.
"They were seen and caught. Everyone wanted to lynch them right then and there but Mr. Ewart insisted on a fair trial. A fair trial! His family didn't get much of a fair trial."
"What happened to his wife?" Bethany Rose was afraid she knew.
"Those bastards... she was pregnant because of that and she... she killed herself one night with sleeping pills."
"Oh, Jesus..." Bethany Rose almost fainted. How could this man take in two colored women and their children after something like that? What if he wanted revenge? What if they were the sacrifice to balance his loss?
"Oh, Jesus..." Bethany Rose was scared now.
"Oh, Jesus... This dress..." She was having a hard time standing and leaned against the large window that overlooked the grocery floor.
"It's his wife's, isn't it?"
Bethany Rose began to cry. Susan didn't really know what to do. If it had been a white woman, it would have been natural to hug and console her... but... this was a colored woman.
Somehow, deep inside, Susan realized that Bethany Rose may have been a colored woman but she was still a woman, a woman who needed someone to help her.
Susan let Bethany Rose lean into her and cry. There was something going on that she didn't understand, couldn't pretend to understand, was afraid to understand.
"I'm sorry. I just... I don't know. You're the first person to tell me all this and my family is taking care of his house and... you don't think he'd do anything to us, do you? Revenge?"
"Oh, God, no... he's the nicest man and..."
"And, what? What were you going to say?"
"As strange as this sounds, he didn't believe those two men did it. He even paid for the best lawyer he could find but people thought it was just misplaced grief. He met with them over and over and tried his best to prove their innocence. His wife's family never spoke to him again.
"His whole thing was based on one thing his wife said, or didn't say. She never said it was colored men that did it and I'm sorry, Miss Carrolton, but you know as well as I do that if two colored men had done it that would have been the first thing she would have said." Bethany knew that was the truth.
"What happened?" Bethany Rose knew what happened. It was the same thing that happened to every colored person accused of something. They were convicted and executed, guilty or not.
"They were executed, weren't they?" Of course, they were.
"Yes, they were. He's still convinced they were innocent."
"Thank you. Now I understand a lot of things that were happening that didn't make any sense to me." Locked rooms, new dresses, empty pantry...
"How did you meet? No offense, but there aren't any colored people in El Segundo. None! This is a pretty closed town when it comes to that."
Bethany Rose wondered what to tell her... the truth was stranger than something she could spin up out of whole cloth.
"He knew that I went to college and when we worked on the ledgers last night..."
"You went to college?" Yeah, right. Hey, wait a minute... "Last night?"
"Yes, I'm living with him... I mean, I'm living in his house. My sister is his housekeeper. I found the discrepancies and found out how to give everyone more money.
"What time is it? Would you like to eat through lunch? I mean, if you wouldn't mind eating with a colored woman."
"Well, I don't know about that, but I wouldn't mind eating lunch with you. Let me use the phone, there.
"This is Susan. I want two... you like roast beef? I want two roast beef sandwiches and some potato salad and some cookies and a couple of Cokes... that's right, bring them up to the office. Thank you."
Waiting for the food, the women went over the schedules again, trying to find more ways to make the workload equitable yet efficient.
With a knock on the door, the bakery girl brought in the food. She looked cautiously at Susan and not so kindly at Bethany Rose.
She put the food down, making sure to give each sandwich to each woman and started to leave.
"Wait a minute," said Susan. "What's this?"
Inside one of the sandwiches, the one put directly in front of Bethany Rose, were shards of broken glass.
"You goddamn little, shitty bastard!" Susan looked at Bethany Rose who was staring at the deadly pieces of glass shining in the office light.
"You want me to do it, or do you?" Do what? OH...
Bethany Rose stood up. "You're fired. Get out."
"You damn uppity nigger, just who you think you are, anyway, coming in here like you're somebody important. Thanks to you, Bill's gone."
While that made no sense to Bethany Rose, the bakery girl's intentions had been quite clear to Susan. Jesus, another one of his little whores... How many were working here anyway? No wonder Bethany Rose said there were 'invisible' people working in the store.
Susan picked up the phone and called the front desk. Sam, Sam, Sam...
"Sam, I need you up here, right now." Hurry up, Sam...
Sam was there in less than a moment. Thank God.
"Please take her out, let her get her things and make sure she never comes back again, for anything... not even to shop. If you ever seen her again, call the police."
Susan threw all the food into the trash can. Damn, what a waste of food with people starving out there, somewhere.
"We're deducting the cost of the food from your last pay. Sam, get her out of here. C'mon, may I call you Bethany, Miss Carrolton? I mean, if it's OK, I mean... we haven't really gotten off to a good start here today, have we?
"It's as much my fault as anyone else's, I guess. I'm going to make us a couple of good sandwiches."
Over the afternoon, the two women talked about life. Susan learned how growing up colored gave someone such a different perspective on life and Bethany Rose learned that being a white woman wasn't necessarily the easiest thing, either.
After lunch, this time with sliced ham and coleslaw, Bethany Rose started meeting with the employees, starting with the meat department. The biggest problem there was unsold product.
The end of the day came sooner than she expected, surprised that it was already eight o'clock. James was ready to leave. He went upstairs and looked at the office door.
"I'm going to have to get that fixed," he said, looking at his black shoe polish smeared on the side of the door. "Let's put it on the calendar for tomorrow.
"Bethany Rose, are you ready to go? How was your day?"
"It was fine, thank you." There was no sense in bothering him with the bakery girl. It was over, hopefully.
As they left the store, she could feel everyone's eyes focused on her. His courtesy with the car door was sure to bring a gasp to the older white women leaving the store.
"Aren't you afraid of business dropping off, you're being polite to me like I was a... white woman... and giving me a job here?"
"Bethany Rose... do you honestly think I care what the people around here think about me? I've had enough grief from the people around here.
"I'm treating you like a woman. Not a white woman, not a colored woman, a woman. Every woman deserves respect until she's proven she doesn't.
"Besides, where are they going to shop? It's a long trip to Manhattan Beach or Hawthorne to get groceries and I own the supermarkets there, too. If they don't like what I'm doing, they can go somewhere else. I'm getting tired of living around here, anyway." Small town America was beating him down. Find two colored men, lynch 'em, case closed. The real killers were still out there, he could feel it in his bones.
That scared her more than anything else. What if he decided to leave? Where would that leave her? ...or, her family? or, her?
It was another silent ride home. She thought of it as home, even if it had only been a few days. If he left... She looked out the side window, watching the empty fields pass by.
After dinner, which she wasn't very hungry for, she helped Eliza clear the table and put down the store's ledgers again. There was something missing, she was sure of it. The numbers should have added up, even taking into consideration the thievery of the former store manager. The El Segundo store was a hole in the ground sucking up his money.
"Why are you working out here?"
She didn't even hear him walk up. How did he do that?
"There wasn't anywhere else, James." Was he wearing that cologne all day? Why didn't she notice it in the car?
"Use the library. That's what it's for. C'mon, I'll help you." He took the heavy books from the table and carried them into the library for her. She could feel Eliza's eyes riveted on her back as she followed James into the library.
Every time he did something nice, she knew he was pulling her into an impossible world of make-believe. Problem was, make-believe for whom? Either he didn't seem to understand what effect he was having on her... if he was like this with his lost wife, she must have been such a happy person.
Every time they were together, she felt special, her heart beat faster and she was getting further and further into... into what?
She knew she shouldn't fall into that trap. Women always fell into that trap... falling for someone and getting their hearts broken and this was the biggest trap of all.
Right before midnight, she found it. It was a simple case of supply and demand economics. What sold before the 'Crash' wasn't going to sell now and yet it was still being ordered and then eventually thrown away or taken home by the workers.
She could see how James, in his private, desperate hell and depending on others, would let something like that easily slip by.
It was close to two in the morning when she had finished drawing up her list of items to be discontinued.
She kissed him; without a sound, bringing her tongue out, circling him, opening her mouth, slowly taking him in, tasting his warm and slightly damp skin. She drew her head back as he started to push...
"Bethany Rose, wake up, dear, you have to go to bed. C'mon, let me help you."
She let him help her up and walk with her up the stairs. Eliza had been asleep for hours and to wake her would wake the children. Breaking all sense of propriety, he went into the room with her, turned down the bed and watched her lay down on the sheets. He covered her and waited until she was soundly asleep.
Before he left, he bent down and kissed her forehead. Why did he do that? He didn't really know. It just seemed the right thing to do.
Tuesday, December 15th, 1931
El Segundo, California
Bethany Rose walked to the next aisle and began checking for item after item on her list. As she expected, whenever there was a choice, people always bought the cheaper brand. If there were no choices and it became too expensive, people just left it on the shelf. Common sense economics didn't seem so common.
What's this? Alka-Seltzer? Minor aches, pains, inflammation, fever, headache, heartburn, sour stomach, indigestion, and hangovers... how can you have a hangover when it's illegal to drink alcohol?
Using a red pen, she checked off what should have been discontinued. Might as well leave this seltzer stuff. There's been plenty of hangovers in this store. The problem, of course, was what to do with the ones they already had. Whatever ideas she had would have to be approved by James, she knew that, but just the same, he made her feel as if she mattered... and she was beginning to believe, to him... she did.
They could, of course, mark them down and sell them that way but it still wouldn't help that much. The expense of buying them and having them take up shelf space had already been lost and people wouldn't necessarily buy them anyway.
She walked around the store, expecting the glances she received from the shoppers still unaccustomed to seeing her and smiling in return.
"Good morning, ma'am. May I help you?" The idea of an articulate, college-educated colored woman offering to help a white woman who might have finished tenth grade before having the first of God knows how many children... it was almost too funny.
By ten o'clock, she had set aside that problem and addressed two others.
One problem she couldn't set aside was her growing, impossible fascination with James. He was starting to invade her dreams, causing her to awaken in the middle of the night, the sheets soaked from her passionate exertions.