The Gardins of Edin
How have I lasted in this family so long? Ruth thought as she steered her golf cart toward Naomi’s driveway. The cart bounced up and down along the old redbrick path, and Ruth wobbled along with it. She was tired of being jerked around—by the golf cart and the tensions brewing in her family. She wondered if the bumpy shortcut to her mother-in-law’s cottage was symbolic of her convoluted placement in the Gardin family tree and the repercussions that came along with it.
Visitors usually parked in the small circular driveway in front of the house, where the asphalt was smooth, but Ruth rarely drove along the street to get to Naomi’s cottage during the daytime. Although the women lived next door to each other on the Gardin family estate, their homes were separated by a couple of acres of deciduous trees, and the brick path connected the far end of Naomi’s driveway to Ruth’s backyard. It was the last original road on the estate, its bricks crafted and laid by the formerly enslaved people who settled the land and whose descendants comprised the family into which Ruth had married. Ruth treasured the path’s history and convenience, but they weren’t the reason she tolerated the uncomfortable commute. It was because she finally felt peaceful when she drove over the last brick, marking the spot where she and Beau had spent hours talking and stargazing when she first moved to Edin with Naomi.
After Ruth stopped the golf cart at the edge of the bricks, she took a long, deep breath, leaning into the headrest with her back slightly arched. The stretch reminded her of yoga class but did little to ease the tension in her lower back. Once a regular attendee, Ruth hadn’t gone to a yoga class in a year and a half, since the morning Beau died. But she visited the spot in Naomi’s driveway almost every day, most often in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep.
Dissatisfied with her stretch, Ruth opened her eyes. She stared up at the sky, thinking of Beau. Red, orange, and bright-yellow hues reflected off the thin clouds as the sun set. She marveled at the horizon, which felt like a fiery reminder that she was about to face a task she’d dreaded all week. Instead of backing down, Ruth was emboldened. She jumped out of the cart like a Manx cat, landing flawlessly in the stiletto heels she’d worn since her 7:30 a.m. check-in meeting with the event planner she hired for the Gardin Family Enterprises Christmas party. With the gathering only a week away and this year being her first time relinquishing the party-planning duties since she married Beau, Ruth was nervous, especially given the media outlets and influencers scheduled to cover the high-profile event.
As Ruth sped up the front walk to Naomi’s cottage, she smoothed the soft fabric of the black V-necked pencil dress she wore. She hardly noticed the multicolored flashing Christmas lights Naomi had placed in the bushes that afternoon. Ruth’s schedule had been filled with back-to-back meetings since she took the helm of Gardin Family Enterprises after Beau’s death, and it was beginning to wear on her. She was grateful when she noticed the small details she used to obsess about previously, but Ruth couldn’t deal with Naomi’s unauthorized holiday decisions. Though Christmas remained Ruth’s favorite time of the year, she had no time to commit to her tradition of coordinating decorations at the four homes on the family estate. Without someone to rein her in, Naomi was prone to go overboard. She couldn’t help it. A simple decorated bush could morph into a flood of string lights cascading from the fountain in the front yard with a sea of candy canes and inflatables spilling into the street.
Ruth slowed as she accessed the steps of the wraparound porch, digging inside her black Brandon Blackwood tote until she found a scratched heart-shaped key chain. She inserted the single key in the door lock but decided the evening might go better if she rang the doorbell instead. As she eased the key from the lock, the door opened.
“I was wondering what took you so long to come up to the house. It’s too early for you to be sleeping in the driveway again,” Naomi said with a sly grin. She extended her arms in a broad V shape. With her silver curls falling below her shoulders and white oversized cardigan draping her petite frame, she looked like a mischievous angel.
“When did you see me sleep in the driveway?” Ruth asked as she crept toward Naomi, extending her arms to return the greeting.
“Almost every night,” Naomi replied. She wrapped her arms around Ruth and squeezed while she rubbed her back.
“Well, I wish you’d told me. I might’ve appreciated some company,” Ruth joked, attempting to mask her shock. The visit would be emotional enough. She needed to save her energy, so she focused on the familiar aroma that had hit her as she entered the house and had then intensified as she hugged Naomi. Despite the woman’s ill-timed observation, Naomi gave the best hugs. Ruth held on for another second before she let go, savoring the buttery smell with hints of cinnamon and vanilla that meant Naomi had made an impromptu batch of snickerdoodles.
“I’m too cute to sleep outside. Camping was never my cup of tea. Speaking of tea, would you like some hibiscus tea?” Naomi asked as she sauntered down the hallway leading to the kitchen.
“Yes, that sounds good,” Ruth said as she followed behind Naomi. She hoped to look as good as her mother-in-law did in fitted jeans when she turned sixty-nine years old.
“By the way, I’m thinking of redecorating. I’ve got an appointment tomorrow with an interior designer. I think it’s time for another project. I feel like I need something to do.”
Ruth pretended not to be affected by the revelation that, as always, Naomi was a step ahead of her. “Okay,” Ruth said, the last syllable dragging out as the muscles tightened at the nape of her neck. Before they reached the kitchen, the doorbell chimed. “I’ll get it,” she said, angling to buy some time to regroup. “Go ahead. They’ll want some tea too.”
Ruth entered the foyer and peered into the large oval mirror opposite the door. Why didn’t she tell me my hair is a mess? Although the natural curls gathered at the top of her head were already neatly coiffed, she pulled and fluffed them while she inspected her makeup.
The doorbell rang again as she lowered her face to the peephole.
“Open up. It’s us, your favorite nieces,” a muffled voice said.
Even through the peephole, their flawless deep-brown skin, pouty lips, and prominent eyes made the sisters look like models in a Doublemint gum commercial.
Ruth took a deep breath and opened the door. Greeting Mary and Martha with a quick hug as they entered the foyer, Ruth marveled at how much the sisters looked more alike as they got older. Although sometimes confused for twins, the women were two years apart. They had such similar taste that they bought the same clothes even when they didn’t shop together.
“Hey, Ruth. Do you know you left your golf cart running? Are you okay?” Mary asked, handing Ruth her keys.
“Oh, I was rushing to get inside. Thank you. I have a lot on my mind. I . . . I guess I’m more distracted than I realized,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper. “So, I think she suspects we’re up to something. Which one of you told her? She’s talking about renovating. How can we convince her to move in with me if she’s planning to update the house? And she baked snickerdoodles too. She knows.”
“I bet Aunt Naomi is making tea. I’m going to go help,” Martha said as she scurried past Ruth.
Ruth’s head swung toward Mary. “Martha told her, didn’t she?” she whispered. “A lot is going on at the company right now. I need everything to be perfect for the Christmas party. I don’t have time for this.”
Mary shrugged and followed her sister without answering Ruth’s question.
Ruth sighed. I’m gonna have to clean up their mess, just like when they were kids. She followed the sisters into Naomi’s kitchen, like ants following the scent left behind by their leader. Ruth pointed to the dry-erase board sitting on an easel in the center of the kitchen table. “Look at this,” she said as she walked closer. “ ‘The honor of your presence is requested at high tea. Please join me in the dining room.’ ” Ruth shook her head. “I told you she’s on to us.”
Martha dismissively waved her hands. “I didn’t tell her, but she probably figured it out because we don’t get together much anymore and we asked if we could come over today even though we have the Gardin Family Enterprises board meeting at your house tomorrow. You have to admit that a bunch of family time all of a sudden is a little strange. She put it together and realized we were up to something.”
Martha nudged her sister.