5-star Highly Recommended Award
The Emerald Necklace
It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?
Three months after her husband’s death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life. For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again – and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling author Fran Barish.
Fran has the recognition Rosalee craves. But Rosalee’s joy with her children, especially her granddaughter, Jill, eats at Fran, a constant reminder of her childlessness. A spiral of mutual envy ensues. It constantly bubbles below the surface of their friendship and is intensified by Fran’s long-held secret – and her inexplicable fascination with Jill’s emerald necklace.
As Jill starts college, Rosalee worries about the choices her granddaughter might make. But Jill’s passion for women’s rights makes Grandma proud. Together with Rosalee’s friends, they travel to New York City for the Women’s Strike for Equality – which further escalates the tension between Rosalee and Fran.
When Jill’s convictions are tested, Rosalee faces a dilemma. Does she dare trust Fran to help? Will their mutual jealousy make that impossible? Or will the story behind Jill’s emerald bind them together?
Excerpt from Chapter One
Her artistry was gone. It had come to a screeching halt three months ago. The day Arnold died. She hadn’t touched a plant or, worse, a piece of clay, since. She had walked the beach each morning, swam when the tide was low, scanned magazines – unable to concentrate on a novel – and had the occasional afternoon tea with a friend. That was all. Now, on this January morning with the Florida sun on her shoulders and her knees on the grass, her trowel burrowing deep into the dry sandy soil, she tried to get it all back.
She shoved the trowel deeper, wiggling it around, nudging it under the roots. The metal hit a rock. It wouldn’t budge. With a tight grip on the wooden handle, she shifted the tool left, maneuvering it under pebbles and sand. The pointed tip got caught in the roots making her dig further down under the fine hairs. A little deeper and she got purchase. Finally, she scooped up the tropical plant, dropped it and the trowel on the ground, and sat back to gaze at the clear, blue early morning sky, watching a blue jay in flight.
Though the hard, dusty soil was nothing like the moist, malleable clay she so loved, she wanted to keep the garden as lovely as Arnold had. Holding the bromeliad in her hands, she carefully pulled the new shoots off. It was as if the plant was giving birth. She laid the baby plants on the ground and dug holes in the soil, making new homes where they could grow. Where they could mature and expand.
Despite the hole in her heart – the ache she was sure would never go away – Rosalee knew she had been one lucky lady. She’d had fifteen years with Arnold. Short but marvelous. Now he was gone and, at sixty-three, she wondered how she would live without him. Without his arms enfolding her each morning, she purring like a kitten, the sheets tangled, the scent of sleep on his skin. Without his hand caressing her thigh each evening as they cuddled on the couch watching television. Without his encouragement when she was frustrated with the clay. Without him.
But this morning, there was a lightness in her chest – one she hadn’t felt in a long time – simply from getting out of the house and accomplishing something. “No more of this doing nothing,” she said aloud, reiterating the decision she had made earlier when the delicious aroma of Maxwell House perfumed her kitchen. “It’s time to get back to life.” Actually, she needed to create a new one, and what better time than the start of a new year? Was she ready for that? “Yes,” she announced to the sky. “After transplanting these babies, I’m heading to my studio.” Merely making that statement brought her spine up straight and a gentle smile to her face. Her studio. The one Arnold had built for her when she moved into his turquoise Florida cottage with a gold band adorning her fourth finger. “You need a place of your own to sculpt,” he’d said, “where your creativity will soar.”
She had put off her sculpting for too long. Now she was ready to work again – or hoped she was. To create a piece Arnold would have been proud of. No, she told herself, one she would be proud of. Proud enough to dig up the courage she desperately needed. The courage to put her work out in the world for others to see. To judge.
The hum of tires on the road made her turn. She watched the UPS truck pull up to the curb and a big, burly man get out. “Oh, that’s heavy,” she called as the driver extricated her package from the back of the truck. “Let me get you a cart.”
“No need, ma’am. Where do you want it?”
Rosalee pointed to the driveway. She would wheel it to the studio herself as soon as she finished transplanting. And that couldn’t come soon enough.
“Okay, then,” the man said. “Have a lovely day. I imagine you’ll be watching the inauguration later.”
“Uh, sure. Yes.” She waved him a goodbye, thinking no way. This girl would rather be pressing her fingers into the new clay than watching Richard Nixon sworn in as the thirty-seventh president of the United States.
With her knees back on the grass, Rosalee placed the baby plants in the dirt and tucked them into the ground like a mother tucks her babies into bed. Splashes of bright green and hot pink leaves dotted the garden. She stood and bent backward, stretching out her spine. “One more thing, then it’s on to my studio,” she told herself and walked over to the hose attached to the side of the house. She turned the water on and dragged it around to the front to give the babies their much-needed nourishment – just as she would nourish herself with clay. Or so she hoped.
“Hello,” came a voice from the sidewalk. A very proper voice. “Your garden is lovely. Are you planting something new today?”
Rosalee turned to find a woman dressed in a straight skirt, pleated in front, and a dropped waist blouse – more like 1929 than ’69. It even had the bow draped around the V-neck collar. In one hand she held a lit cigarette, in the other a leash attached to a caramel-colored dog with fluffy ears. Thankfully, she was gloveless or Rosalee would have had to check the calendar.
“I’ve been admiring the way the flowers sort of meander in the border,” the middle-aged woman said. “I like the way you use texture, wispy and sword-like all mixed with those lovely violet flowers. I wanted to ring your bell and ask if you’d help me design mine, but . . .”
“I’m far from a landscape artist,” Rosalee laughed, continuing to water the plants while looking over her shoulder at the woman on the sidewalk. “My husband designed this, and I’m just trying to keep up with it, do some transplanting, clean up all these tangled runners.” And then, she said to herself, get my hands back on my moist clay instead of this gritty stuff. She turned the nozzle off, stopping the flow of water, and dragged the hose back to the side of the house. “Your dog is adorable,” she said, as she rolled the rubber hose on its wheel. “He looks like a dachshund but with fluffy ears.”
The woman bent and patted the puppy’s head. “Taffy is my little love,” she said. “We rescued him from a shelter when we moved in.” She took a drag on her cigarette, then dropped it on the sidewalk and stomped it out with her foot.
“Oh! You’re the new neighbor at the end of the cul de sac.” Rosalee brushed the soil from her hands, the brown dirt not nearly as satisfying as the muddy white film left by clay. “Sorry I haven’t come by to welcome you. I’ve been a bit distracted lately.” That’s for sure, she thought. Distracted is a good word, though I don’t need to pour my heart out to this woman who doesn’t seem to know what year we’re in. And why am I even talking to her? I want to go to my studio.
The woman chatted on about plants and dogs. Rosalee adjusted her madras blouse, making sure the buttons closed over her ample breasts. I should invite her in for a cup of coffee, she thought. Some neighbors did that for me when I was new. But now?
“My name is Fran, by the way,” the lady said.
Rosalee gave an embarrassed giggle. “And I’m Rosalee Linoff. Glad to meet you. If I can offer any help on what to plant, I’ll do my best, but now I’ve got—”
“Maybe you and your husband would come for dinner,” the woman said, cutting her off, “and he can tell me all about Florida flora – what works in this soil so close to the beach.”
Rosalee stiffened. Once again, she would have to say the words aloud. It wasn’t getting any easier no matter what people said. Each time the reality hit hard, and she did not want that reality. She braced herself and said, “My husband is deceased.” Her voice barely pierced the quiet morning air.
“I’m so sorry.” Fran waved her hand as if she could erase her faux pas. “I . . . I just assumed since . . .”
“That’s okay.” Here I go again, making the other person feel better. Damn. “Why don’t you come in?” she said, surprising herself. “We’ll have a cup of coffee, and I’ll show you Arnold’s gardening books. You can borrow them.”
Fran was concerned about Taffy, though Rosalee assured her she loved dogs and would actually enjoy having this cutie in her house. Did I really say that? What the hell’s wrong with me? I was going to work in my studio. She shook off that idea, realizing she could do it later. Just as she could do the weeding tomorrow. There was nowhere she had to be and no one waiting for her latest sculpture. Or for her. Plus, it’ll be nice having someone to talk to – to have a little noise in the house. The silence was deafening.
Rosalee left the trowel on the edge of the flower bed, waiting for tomorrow or the next time she felt the urge to garden. With Fran and Taffy following, she stepped up onto her front porch. Suddenly it hit her. Fran never knew Arnold. It would change their conversation. She couldn’t share memories with Fran like she did with Selma and her other friends. Fran couldn’t make her smile. Or laugh, which stabbed her heart each time a bit of a chuckle escaped her lips. How can I possibly giggle when my life has fallen apart? She shook off the thought and told herself it was time to talk about other things anyway. Maybe I’ll invite her to have tea with Selma and me on Thursday. She glanced at Fran’s two-piece frock. It reminded her of the dresses she wore to those society luncheons so many years ago, and she wondered if this vintage woman would fit in. To be continued…