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Kansas City, Missouri
It was Saturday. Dory Lambert’s favorite day of the week. On Saturday, Chase McKay, the chauffeur’s son, washed the cars.
One by one he’d drive them out of the garage, fan them on the tarmac and take off his shirt. It was the high point of fourteen-year-old Dory’s dumb, boring, stupid, pointless week.
The Rolls, the Bentley and Daddy’s grand old Packard touring car. The Town Car that Daddy occasionally drove himself. Mother’s Volvo, her sister Jilly’s 1957 Thunderbird hardtop convertible, the Chevy station wagon and the van that Wallace the butler used for errands.
It was a lot of hosing, sponging, wiping and polishing so Chase started early. No later than seven a.m., Dory would plunk herself with a book on the round bench under the massive old elm tree that grew by the garage. Close enough that she could see Chase and he could pretend she wasn’t there. He was awfully good at that.
She’d lie on the bench reading till Chase started to get tired, till the scowl that made her heart twist curled the corner of his mouth. When he upended the red plastic milk crate that held the sponges and chamois cloths, sat down on it and lit a cigarette, Dory would put her book aside, sidle up to him and say, “I’ll give you a hand, Chase.”
“Are you trying to get me in trouble?” He’d squint at her through a curl of smoke. “Go away, squirt.”
“You won’t get in trouble,” she’d say. “Nobody cares what I do.”
Dory didn’t say because she wasn’t beautiful like Jilly, but it was true. Chase would flip his cigarette away, throw a sponge at her and go back to work. Dory would chase the sponge down, pick it up and start scrubbing. Chase would scowl for a while, then he’d smile. He’d flip soapsuds at her when they met at the bucket. Next thing Dory knew, she’d have a bucket of her own. Chase would go to the spigot and fill one for her, drop down on his heels beside her and show her how to get the road gunk off the chrome fenders. The brush of his arm against hers made her stomach flutter.
At some point in the morning Jilly would walk by with her friends. In boots and jodhpurs on their way to the stables, in white pleated skirts swinging tennis rackets, or pastel shorts and matching sun visors on their way to the nine-hole golf course. Dory could feel the spring that would tighten in Chase and turn him around half a second before Jilly appeared with her friends.
Jilly was blond, leggy—“coltish,” Mother called her in those days before her figure filled out—and gorgeous. She and her friends never stopped, but their eyes would slide toward Chase. He’d turn around and stand there, let them look at him as they walked past, his naked, blond-haired chest sweaty with soap. The blue eyes that met and held his longest were Jilly’s. When they were gone, Chase would turn back to Dory and pick up where he’d left off showing her how to get just the right buff on the bumper of the Rolls.
When they finished the cars they’d drink a Coke on the bench under the elm tree and Dory would tell Chase about her stupid, dumb, boring, pointless week. How did French people learn French? Her ballet teacher said she danced like a cow. The new uniform she had to wear to school in the fall made her look like a penguin. She did not want to go to London with Mother and Jilly. She wanted to stay home with Daddy and Aunt Ping but Mother said she had to go to London.
“You got a rough life, squirt.” Chase would give her a look that was part scowl, part amused smile. “I don’t know how you stand it.”
I look forward to Saturdays, Dory wanted to tell him. Doing something that has a point, a purpose, achieves a goal. I look forward to being with you. Dory wondered later what would’ve happened if she’d said that to Chase, if it would’ve changed anything. Nope, she concluded. Chase was nineteen, Jilly was seventeen and she was a fourteen-year-old squirt.
Chase lived over the garage with his father, Charles McKay, Daddy’s chauffeur. It was a really big garage, climate controlled to protect Daddy’s cars, especially his treasured old Pack. The apartment above it was more like a penthouse than a garret.
“Awfully nice digs for the chauffeur,” one of Jilly’s friends said on a Saturday night when they were all staying over.
They were on the balcony outside Jilly’s bedroom. In their peignoirs and painted toenails, with Daddy’s binoculars so they could spy on Chase. Dory had wormed her way in. She always did and Jilly always let her. When one of her friends said, “Do we always have to have the brat with us?” Jilly’s eyes would flash. “She’s not a brat,” she’d say. “She’s my baby sister.” Dory worshipped Jilly.
When her snippy friend made that comment about the garage, Jilly said, “Daddy’s very good to our servants. Mother tells him he’s an idiot but he tells Mother if you want people to take care of you, you’d better take care of them. Daddy treats our servants like family.”
One Saturday night that summer it was just Dory and Jilly and Jilly’s best friend Marilyn on the balcony. They caught Chase in the binoculars as he slid outside onto the flat part of the garage roof in jeans and nothing else, leaned his elbows on the parapet and lit a cigarette. Dory saw the red flare in the darkness as he inhaled.
“God he is sooo gorgeous,” Marilyn said and all three of them sighed. Then Marilyn swung around on the chaise they’d drawn up to the brick balustrade and tipped her head to one side. “Sooo,” she said to Jilly. “Have you let him kiss you yet?”
“Mar-i-lyn.” Jilly flicked her eyes at Dory.
Kissing? Dory’s heart seized. When was this going on?
The next night when Jill snuck out of the house Dory followed her. She bumped into a stone bench and knocked over a birdbath, but Jilly zipped through the ornamental garden like a bat with radar. Chase waited for her by the stables. Dory saw the flash of his white T-shirt when he stepped out of the darkness. Jilly flew to him, threw her arms around him. Chase lifted her off her feet.
Dory clung to the corner of the garage. When Chase took Jilly’s hand and drew her into the long, low horse barn where Mother kept her Arabs and her saddlebreds, Dory followed. Chase had left the cross-planked doors ajar. If Eddie the head groom walked the stable yard, and he did sometimes at night, he’d investigate. Because she loved Chase, Dory eased the doors shut behind her and sank into a ball of misery against the wall near the tack room door.
Moonlight glowed through the skylights. Chase had his shirt off. Jilly’s blouse was unbuttoned. Chase had her backed against the wall between two stalls. He was kissing Jilly and squeezing her breasts through the white lace cups of her bra. Jilly was making noises like it hurt. Dory’s heart tore down the middle. She didn’t know which one of them to yell at first—Stop hurting my sister! Stop kissing Chase!
“No.” Jilly lifted Chase’s hand from her breast and slipped it between her legs. “There. Oh yes. There.”
Dory’s mouth fell open. Where had Jilly learned that?
The barn doors swung open, the lights blazed on and there stood Daddy and Charles McKay in their pajamas and bathrobes. Chase jumped away from Jilly, but Daddy and Charles had seen his hand on Jilly’s breast, the other between her legs. Both men looked like they’d been punched in the stomach.
“Chase,” Charles said. “How could you do such a thing?”
“It wasn’t Chase,” Dory said. “Jill put his hand between her legs.”
“Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph!” Daddy shouted, first at Dory, then at Jilly. “In front of your sister!”
Jilly yanked her blouse over her breasts and burst into tears.
Daddy snatched off his leather slipper. He’d never hit Dory or Jilly with it. He’d pitch it at Aunt Ping’s cat, Tobias, when he jumped into his leather chair in the library, but when he took off his slipper and started waving it around you knew you were in trouble.
Daddy flung out his hand, pointed his slipper at the house and thundered “Go!” at Jilly. She went, clutching her blouse and sobbing.
“We’ll discuss this is the morning, Charles,” Daddy said to his chauffeur, then swung a glare and his slipper on Dory. “You too. Go!”
Dory wanted to look at Chase but didn’t dare. She ran out of the barn, one jump ahead of Daddy’s slipper.
Mother and Aunt Ping were awake. Aunt Ping slept like Tobias, like a cat. The birdbath Dory knocked over was right outside her window on the ground floor of the south wing. She’d seen Dory hopping one-footed through the garden and went upstairs to waken Mother and Daddy.
Daddy yelled. Mother lectured them on appropriate behavior for young ladies named Lambert, which did not include making out with the chauffeur’s son or snooping on your sister. Daddy yelled some more. Aunt Ping sat in a pink-gilt Louis XIV armchair in the front parlor with Tobias in her lap, her head bowed as she stroked his gray fur.
Dory’s head hurt by the time Daddy and Mother finished. She stumbled upstairs, fell face-first on her bed and slept until eleven o’clock the next morning, when she yawned downstairs to the breakfast room. Aunt Ping came in and sat beside her while she drank her milk-laced coffee. She told her Chase was gone, did her best to make Dory believe this had been planned all along. That Daddy would pay for Chase to go to college.
“It’s June, Aunt Ping,” Dory said. “School starts in September.”
“There was an opening for summer semester. Chase had to leave right away to take advantage of it.”
“Is Charles gone? Did Daddy get rid of him, too?”
“Dory.” Aunt Ping looked shocked. “What a thing to say.”
“This is because of Jilly, because of what happened last night.”
“Really, Dory, it isn’t. It only looks that way.”
“If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck, Aunt Ping,” Dory said and stomped out of the breakfast room.
When Daddy came home from the bank that evening, Dory let herself into the library without knocking. He blinked at her, surprised, from his leather chair, a cigar in one hand, a whiskey sour in the other.
“How can you say you treat our servants like family and then send Chase away because he kissed Jilly?” she demanded.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Daddy replied. “Charles thought it was best.”
“Are you going to pay for Chase to go to college?”
“Yes. It was part of the arrangement Charles and I made when he came to work for us.”
Almost twenty years ago, Dory knew, when Chase was just a baby. After Charles’ wife died and Daddy and Mother were first married. Dory left the library and the house and climbed the stairs to the garage apartment.
“Why did you think it was best to send Chase away?” she asked when Charles McKay opened the door.
“Go back to the house, Miss Dory. That’s where you belong.”