Mrs. Thayer ruffled up her feathers and scowled across the room. "Pheobe! I don't know where you left your manners, but you certainly didn't bring them here!" Miss Brooks looked chastened but unbowed.
"Gloria, you know that last years' festival was poorly attended, and never so much as the day of that play." A quiet murmur of support ran around the room. Mrs. Thayer looked furious. Before she could speak, the woman sitting to my immediate right rapped her notebook sharply on the table. "Ladies! We are not here tonight to decide the details of the gala - tonight's meeting was to discuss general ideas only. Besides (she stared down everyone until they fell silent.) Kendall Thayer is away at university now, and will NOT be returning to our fair city for the next festival." I could have been mistaken, but I could have sworn I heard a soft 'Thank God' come from her lips as she fussed with her papers. "Now, who is leading the refreshments committee this year?"
I tuned them out, smiling and nodding in the right places,wondering why on earth Grand-Dad had been so insistent that I involve myself with this group, and busied myself watching faces.
There was a lot of feeling expressed about just how this years' festival would be run. Last year, I idly thought, could not have been good. The women were hard into it, several sharp conversations going on at once, their heads dipping with emphasis, voices rising. The woman to my right (Julia, I suddenly remembered, her name is Julia) let out a tiny 'tsk!' of annoyance, then sighed and let them all go. She glanced my way and our eyes caught. She shrugged a shoulder, and I realized she was very near my age. "I time it." she said, simply. "It does them good to get the irritations off their chests. And last year there was- well, there is a lot of irritation over last year. I give them seven minutes, and then I'll call them back into order. That way", she said, flashing a surprisingly fond smile at the still-quarreling women around the table, "no one will have time to say anything they'll really regret, they'll feel better for getting it out, and we can all get back to business. You must be Katherine - I'm Julia Clairborne. It's a pleasure. My mother couldn't be here tonight - but she'd love to meet you. Come around tomorrow for tea?"
I was taken aback and charmed, all at once. "I'd love to" I said at last. "Oh! " she said, glancing up at the big clock hanging on the wall. "Time to reign in the passions. Ladies. Ladies!"
And we swept into a storm of signing people up to head committees and assigning tasks to others. The big clock boinged twice more before we adjourned, and Julia bid most of them goodbye before turning to me. "Clay will be able to point out where we live, but I think you've probably seen it. The big yellow house at the corner, right before your driveway."
"We are. And Momma would love to see you. She was friends with your Mom when she first moved here, and she remembers you as a tiny girl. Come by tomorrow after lunch?"
"I think I'd really like that."
I stepped out into the hot sun and looked around for Clay. Not seeing him (the hardware store? The bank? Where would I look?) I set off towards the end of town, mulling over the meeting and trying to put faces to names. I walked past the tall man lounging against the bumper before I realized that I was standing in front of Clay's truck.
"Well now", a voice drawled. "You must be Kitty." I looked up. "I'm Porter. Dad said to come get you. He got caught at the dentist. I think"-a dimple flashed in his cheek- "he'll brush more next time. Let's get you home."
He smelled like moss, I decided as we whizzed through the streets, or something woodsy and cool. Other than a few niceties, though, we were silent on the way, the wind whirring through the open windows the only sound. Porter whistled a couple of notes, then tapped his hand on the steering wheel.
"So how long are you going to hang out in Bailey?"
"I'm not sure. Until after the festival, anyway."
He slowed to turn into the driveway and cut the motor in front of Clay's shed. He leaned back in his seat and sent me a half-smile. "Well, I'll see lots of you then. I'm staying with Dad this summer."
He nodded. "Here."