1. Age old Favours
The very first thing that Eleanor Farwell said to her daughter Cora, on the morning of the twenty fifth, upon walking into the dining room was; "Oh Cora, not again?"
Cora, a stern faced girl of eighteen, tore her gaze away from the morning newspaper and blinked groggily at her mother, startled by the woman's exasperated tone. "What?" She remarked, the remains of a slice of toast dangling idly from her fingers.
Eleanor narrowed her eyes critically. "Don't say 'what' like that Cora – it's vulgar. Say – I beg your pardon."
Cora raised both eyebrows in a manner she hoped questioned her mother's sanity, but obliged. "I beg your pardon, Mother?" she drawled.
Eleanor ignored the sarcasm, as she had for many of her daughter's teenage years "This." she said purposefully, reaching across and tapping the careless bun that Cora had absently yanked her dark brown hair into that morning, errant strands escaping in various directions, giving her the appearance of a small explosion. "This half-hearted attempt at presentation darling -it's really not becoming."
Cora was halfway through her retort of 'and who am I trying to impress at the breakfast table' when Eleanor resumed her offensive.
"And the business pages! Oh Cora, wouldn't you prefer something a little more….well, light hearted to read?"
Cora folded the paper neatly and set it aside. "It's habit Mother, remember? Daddy and I used to…"
"Every Friday morning." Eleanor murmured. "Yes I remember." She sighed, implying a degree of forgotten fondness for her late husband. Suddenly she was back to her brisk self. "Well, whatever. Eat up and get Mrs Layton to fix that abomination of a style." Mrs Layton was the family's housekeeper, who had worked as combined cook, cleaner and nanny to Cora's family since the girl was six years old.
"What's the big rush?" Cora asked. She discarded the last of her toast and brushed off her hands as Eleanor fussed around their comfortable town house.
One positive thing that had come out of losing her first husband was the generous savings that he had left his wife and children, earned from years of canny business deals. It was enough to keep his family secure for as long as possible, or at least until Eleanor had married husband number two. Theodore James Farwell the third, a wealthy factory owner. A shmuck, Cora decided, whenever she was reminded of cheerful, bustling Theo, but an okay shmuck. Never tried to usurp into the father role, or be overbearing with offers of forced false friendship.
The fact that he was away in Chicago for most of the year was an additional plus.
"And anyway, she can't." Cora added.
"Who can't what honey?" Eleanor asked, adjusting her hair in the hall mirror.
Cora scuttled after her, leaning lazily on the nearby doorframe and rolling her eyes. "Mrs Layton. She left last night, remember?"
Eleanor froze. "What?" She yelped.
"To Baltimore. She said so weeks ago." Cora paused. "Kenny's getting married, she'll be back in a few days anyway…" She trailed off, becoming increasingly aware of her mother repeatedly muttering the words 'no, no, no' under her breath.
"This isn't happening." Eleanor gasped, becoming increasingly more flustered by the minute. "This is not happening. I'm in Paris for the next two weeks, she needs to be here!"
"Mother, please relax!" Cora said, alarmed at her mother's panic. "I can look after myself until Mrs Layton gets back!"
"Don't be ridiculous Cora you can barely look after yourself without looking like some artsy lower class ragbag." Eleanor snapped. "Can't you stay with Violet from school?"
"Out of town with her parents." Cora replied.
"They can't take me in; they're barely scraping by as it is. Not everyone is as lucky as us."
"I know, I know…" Eleanor sighed, clasping her hand together melodramatically.
Cora took a hopeful step forward. "I could come with you?" She suggested tentatively.
Eleanor gaped at her youngest daughter before bursting into high pitched, cruel laughter. "Cora, darling, that's absurd!" She trilled. "Not your sort of scene at all and besides, you still need a great deal of refinement before I unleash you on Parisian society!"
"But I thought-" Cora began, but was again interrupted.
"No, no, you'd be far better off staying in the city. Perhaps you could arrange to see that nice young accountant I introduced you to - Nathaniel, wasn't it?"
Cora rolled her eyes again and began stomping meaningfully up the stairs. "Ugh, please mother. I made it quite clear to dear Howard that I was not interested in the slightest."
Eleanor's face dropped. "Why ever not?" She whined, hurrying after her
"Well." Cora began, retreating to her bedroom and selecting a brush. "I'm not sure what repulsed me more, the wandering hands or the bad breath!"
"It's true." Scowling into the mirror, she began to run the brush through her thick hair. "I informed him what a disgusting little man he was and he didn't take it well."
Frustrated, Eleanor stamped her foot. "Cora Rose Denham, you will be the death of me!" She strode across the room and snatched the brush away. "You will never be married at this rate! Do you want to end up an old maid?"
"No, but I don't want to marry someone like Nathaniel, why on earth would I?"
"He earns good money!"
She snorted "And that's all that counts?"
"I only want security for you." Eleanor stated sanctimoniously.
"Sadie was at least twenty before she met Alfred."
"She was lucky." Eleanor fumed. "And don't think that bringing your sister into this will get you anywhere."
"Oh please!" Cora snapped. "It was inevitable; you can hardly ever wait to tell the whole world how goddamn perfect Sadie is!"
"You shut your mouth!" Eleanor's last words rang into a tense silence as mother and daughter glared at each other. Eventually Eleanor sniffed deeply, straightened her shoulders and composed herself.
"Pack your bags."
A feeling of dread settled in Cora's stomach "Why?"
"Because I know where you can stay." She marched out of the untidy bedroom, her hands tightly in fists.
Cora ran to the door. "Where are we going?"
"I'm calling in a favour." Her mother announced. "From your Uncle Carl!"
NB: Rewritten 18/11/2015