Sisters in Tea – Part IV: The red dress

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Felicia, Ramona and Lupe are three friends who meet every month at the St. James Tearoom. But when Lupe proposes to invite a young woman named Carmen, Ramona gets all nervous. Will Carmen fit in their tight-knit group? What if she doesn't? In Part III, Ramona and Felicia chat while they wait for Lupe and her friend. Unfortunately, the new member of the group turns out to be the woman that Ramona had caught opening a package at the tearoom shop. The meeting doesn't have a very auspicious start.

It was November's third Wednesday, time for another meeting at the St. James Tearoom.

Lupe couldn't believe that four weeks had already passed. She had once read that time seemed to speed up with age. The fact that she was getting older didn't make her feel good. At all.

She walked into the living room where her husband, El Viejo, sat in his favorite stuffed chair correcting his students' essays. Lupe knew by his focused and content expression that he was enjoying the task. She considered her husband a nerd in all the senses of the word. Normally she wouldn't have interrupted him, but she wanted reassurance.

"Do you think that I should tell the girls about Carmen?" she asked.

El Viejo tore his eyes from the papers. He was a Spanish literature professor at the University of New Mexico and had gentle, avuncular manners that his students found comforting, even if they ended up with a D minus. After almost two decades together, Lupe could still feel the soothing effect of his big brown Labrador eyes.

"I wouldn't get into the gory details," he answered. "Just tell them that she left, which is the truth."

"Part of the truth," Lupe replied.

"In any case, it wasn't your fault. Don't make a tempest in a teapot."

Maybe El Viejo was right. Still, Lupe had to admit that bringing Carmen to their previous meeting had been a mistake. Her mistake. She knew Ramona wasn't happy with the idea. Then everything turned out to be so awkward that she wondered if the two women had met before and had some sort of disagreement. They had been barely spoken to each other, spoiling the afternoon for the others. Felicia, who did her best to maintain a civilized conversation, finally gave up too. For the first time since Lupe could remember they had left the tearoom 15 minutes before the allotted time.

Maybe Carmen hadn't enjoyed the afternoon either. Maybe the company of three older women hadn't been interesting to her and she was simply bored. Lupe shrugged. But it was Carmen who had said, and more than once, that she wanted to join them for tea ... In any case, that wasn't a big issue. But what happened with the red dress was something else. Despite El Viejo's advice, she would talk to her friends about it.

Lupe sighed as she checked her hair and make-up in the hall mirror. At 5 feet 1 inches tall, she knew she would be better off wearing her hair short. Her shoulder-length, ashy brown mane made her look stubbier than she was. "It drags you down," her stylist had said, trying to convince her to go for a short bob. But Lupe believed that longer hair lent her a more youthful appearance, which she wanted to keep for as long as she could. She said good-by to El Viejo and left.

The Albuquerque traffic, coming from the North Valley, wasn't too bad, but it still took her a good 20 minutes to get to the tearoom. She had ample time to ponder over the red dress issue and the way she would present it to her friends without sounding mean, angry or victimized.

The dress had been at the store for over two months. It had been a tough sale though it was a cute, festive piece. But of course, people didn't usually go to Books and Boots to buy clothes. If it didn't sell soon, Lupe had planned to give it to Carmen -- it was her size and her favorite color. That was why it all had hurt so much.

On Friday morning, the dress was gone. Since Carmen had been working by herself the day before, Lupe assumed she had sold it. Good for her, she thought. She started leafing through the previous day's receipts, but found out that only two keyrings, three postcards, a book about Southwest saints, and a cheap pair of sunglasses had been sold -- a total of $56 dollars and .90 cents. The dress was retailing for $70 dollars, though she had told Carmen to lower the price to $50 if someone showed interest.

Carmen had called in sick that day and Lupe didn't want to bring up the issue over the phone. She left a message telling her that they needed to talk as soon as possible. But Carmen didn't show up the following day and didn't even bother to call. When Lupe phoned her again, the number had been disconnected. She never heard from her former employee again and two weeks had already gone by.

Lupe could have reported the incident to the police but decided against it. She couldn't prove that Carmen had stolen the dress. It wasn't worth the trouble, all things considered. But she felt cheated. Worse, she felt betrayed.

"No good deed goes unpunished," she muttered to the rearview mirror.

Now she would have to explain all that to Felicia and Ramona, breaking the no-bitching bylaw.

The Spanish version of this story is here.

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