My daughter clapped her hands together a few times.
"We"ll also have cake after dinner," Mama added and winked.
Juniper squealed, but then stopped when Mama raised an eyebrow. My daughter gave a perfect curtsey in her adorable little pink jumper.
"Thank you, Grandma," she said, and then sprinted away from the foyer.
"Juniper Blue, you don"t run in your grandmother"s house," I called.
She slowed for a few seconds before breaking into a run again. I listened, waiting for the sound of a thud or something shattering.
Mama laughed and started toward her parlor.
I smoothed out my skirt and followed Mama to the parlor. We sat opposite each other across a familiar cherrywood table. She loved that table. It was eighteenth-century and had even been owned by John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee.
"No Bella tonight"" I asked, looking around for Mama"s housekeeper. "Is that why you got started late on cooking the food""
"Bella"s in the kitchen trying to salvage the meal. It"s not her fault, bless her heart. It was my fault for not telling her ahead of time."
Bella usually helped with Sunday dinners. Mama did enjoy cooking and thought it came with the duties of being a proper hostess, but she was also a woman with a busy social calendar, and Mama"s house was not something she could manage by herself. Even Bella had more than a few helpers during the week.
Still, Mama didn"t care. Delegation, she always told me, is part of leadership.
That feeling of dread returned. Another typical sign of a Sally Jolie scheme was that she kept it close to the chest so someone wouldn"t alert you to the scheme. The fact that this dinner was a surprise to not only me but also Bella pointed to Mama trying to pull something.
Now, to be clear, Mama wouldn"t stoop to lying. That was beneath a proper Nashville lady, according to her, but that didn"t mean she would always tell you everything either. Even at thirty-two, I had a hard time figuring out when she was holding something back.
She picked up a glass and a pitcher of sweet tea sitting between us. "Do you want some tea, Emily""
Mama poured the tea and then plucked a lemon slice from a nearby tray to place on my glass before handing it to me. I didn"t like the look in her eyes. Hungry, I guess you might call it.
"Thank you," I said after taking a sip of my tea.
The unease and worry I felt about coming to Mama"s had a lot to do with that first year after my divorce. Mama was kind and supportive, yes, but she"d gotten a peculiar idea in her head, an idea that I hadn"t had to deal with much lately, but this mysterious Tuesday dinner made me think it was coming again.
"How are things at your job, Emily"" Mama asked.
"Good. I think so at least." I shrugged. "There"s some talk about me getting promoted."
"Oh, that"s wonderful, dear." Mama took a sip of her tea. For a second, I swore I spotted a little grin.
My stomach did a little flip. Oh, no. It was coming"and coming soon.
"How long until the casserole"" I said. If we started eating, maybe I could escape.
"Oh, it"ll be ready when it"s ready." She let out a long sigh. "You know, it"s good that you"re doing well at work, but it"d be better if you could be home with Juniper. A daughter needs her mother when she"s young, especially a girl whose daddy, well, is Lionel Blue."
"He"s good to Juniper. I"ll give him that." I shrugged again.
Mama snorted. "But he wasn"t good to you, now, was he, dear"" She shook her head. "It"s okay not to like your cheating ex-husband, dear." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Especially one who was using drugs."
"I don"t like him, Mama. That"s why I divorced him." My heart kicked up. If this wasn"t a prelude to something bad, I didn"t know what was. "Anyway, I"d love to stay home with Juniper, but I need to work, Mama. I can"t just live with you. I love you, but I"m a grown woman."
"You wouldn"t have to work or live with me," Mama began and then took a sip of her tea, "if you found yourself a nice man and remarried. You"re a woman who comes from a proud family with strong roots in Nashville. You deserve a man of equal stature."
The cannon had been fired. I knew a Tuesday dinner was too weird for Mama"s schedule.
I ran a hand through my chestnut brown hair. "Mama, we"ve been over this." I sighed. "We went over it almost every day after that first six months of my divorce. I don"t think that dating a man is something I need right now. It"s too much trouble."
"Oh, you hush now." Her brow furrowed for a moment, revealing the wrinkles mostly concealed by Mama"s makeup efforts. "You most certainly do need a man. All women need a man. Juniper needs a positive male role model in her life and not that bum Lionel."