SAMPLE SUNDAY: Excerpt from KNIGHTS OF PASSION: GRIFFIN
I had the feeling it was a part of old school female southern etiquette to extend compliments to men, but not to kiss ass. It was a weapon used to charm a foolish man right out of his senses.
“I do it all the time,” I said, trying not to be charmed too much. “I struggled with Enterprise Agreements at first too, because those contracts are really supposed to be written by our Software Licensing Department. But since I moved to Virginia and became a field rep it saves time if I do it myself rather than sending paperwork back and forth to STC.”
“Speaking of moving Griff, you being a Yankee, how do you like living in the South?”
Suzanne took a sip of water and flashed her pretty brown eyes across the table at me. I took that as her signal that she didn’t want to talk about work anymore.
“The part of Virginia I’m in is okay. I’m in a quiet spot right outside of Richmond.”
“Do you miss New Jersey, that being home and all?”
“Well, in some ways where I am is a little like New Jersey. I have access to pretty much everything I want to do, except for the beach. I do miss being a few minutes away from the ocean. But overall it’s okay.”
“How did your wife feel about moving?”
“Does she like living in Virginia?”
“Why do you think I’m married?”
“Griff sweetie, come on. Don’t do that.”
“About a year and a half ago we were talking and you told me you had to run because your car was in the shop and your wife was picking you up at work.”
“Oh, okay. I was married then. I’m separated now.”
“Oh Griffin, I’m so sorry.”
“Is that why you moved to Virginia? Oh, listen to me, prying into your affairs! I do apologize Griffin. Don’t answer that question.”
Scarlett O’Hara couldn’t have laid it on any thicker. Where did she come from that women still conducted themselves that way?
“It’s no problem,” I said. “It was part of the reason I moved. But I wanted a change of environment anyway.”
“All right,” Suzanne said. “I’ll hush up being nosy now. It’s just that though this our first time together I feel as if I know you because we’ve talked so often.”
One of the reasons STC had a loyal customer following was because our customers had assigned account managers. When an STC customer wanted to purchase something or needed technical support they didn’t get a stranger or someone on the other side of the world who barely spoke English on the phone. All customers with an STC account had the phone number extension to the desk of their account manager. Julian St. Christopher’s successful logic was that when a customer felt they had a relationship with a company and trust who they’re dealing with, they spend more money.
I said, “We do know each other. We just hadn’t seen each face to face.”
The waitress showed up with our appetizer and salad. With the charm I’d grown accustomed to Suzanne thanked the waitress as if the woman had prepared the items personally. When she was gone I decided to try to find out something more personal about my customer. “Are you from Columbia?” I asked.
Suzanne shook her head and said, “No, I’m originally from Savannah Grove, Mississippi.”
She smiled at me, and again the openness of her smile highlighted how pretty she was. Suzanne’s smile was like putting the perfect frame around a masterpiece painting.
She said, “One day I’m going to tell someone where I’m from and they’re going to say, ‘Oh, Savannah Grove? I know that place!’”
“Not today,” I said.
Now Suzanne laughed. Hers was a genuine but controlled laughter, the sound barely reaching beyond our table. I could have thought of a few women I’d known in my life who would have brayed loud enough to turn people’s heads out on the street.
“Why did you leave Mississippi?” I asked.
“Because dear Griffin, it’s Mississippi. I love my family and I love the home I grew up in. But all my life, every time I set foot off my daddy’s land and then returned home all I could think about was being someplace else. So when I was away at school I knew I wasn’t going back to stay. I’d seen a much more interesting life beyond the boundaries of Mississippi. As fate would have it I made my career in South Carolina.”
“So you didn’t go to college in Mississippi?”
“I went to the University of North Carolina. Before that Fleur du Sud.”
“Fleur du what?”
“Fleur du Sud. Roughly translated from French it means Southern Flower. It’s a finishing school for girls.”
“They still have those—finishing schools?”
“They’re becoming few and far between, but a few still exist.”
“You wanted to go to one?”
“Not just any one. Attending Fleur du Sud is a requirement for the women in my family, going back to my maternal great-great grandmother. My four sisters and I all attended, from ages fourteen through seventeen.”
“You lived at the school?”
“Oh yes, and believe me Griffin, when it comes to boot camp, the military has nothing on Fleur du Sud. We attained our high school diploma there, of course. But the school’s primary purpose is to transform girls into proper young ladies.”
“Isn’t that kind of old fashioned?”
“In what sense?”
“Well, I think a lot of liberated women would roll their eyes at the idea of a finishing school whose purpose is to teach girls how to become ladies. They might ask why girls have to go to a school to become some version of a subservient male fantasy.”
Suzanne’s new smile was one of amusement. “Is it a male fantasy?”
“I think for many, yes. And some women might say that boys don’t have to go to school to learn to become gentlemen, so why should girls have to go to become ladies?”
“It wouldn’t hurt a lot of men to learn to become proper gentlemen, Griff. But what I would say to those liberated women is to each her own. And if they wished to debate the issue, I’d argue that times have changed, and a woman certainly has the right to choose her own path today. But some things never change.”
“A woman can work for what she wants. That’s her right. But, dear Griffin, a true lady could always get what she wanted whether she worked or not, and without having to objectify herself or surrender her dignity.”
I thought I could take Suzanne’s statement a lot of ways. My instinct and that amused smile she still wore told me she meant it a lot of ways. But I decided to let it go for the moment. “So how do you like South Carolina?” I asked.
“It’s adequate for now,” Suzanne said. Then she gave me a sweeter smile and added, “But who knows what the future holds? Perhaps I’ll meet a handsome gentleman who will convince me that my place is with him, wherever that might be.”