Helen laughed as Nancy turned the corner. The two were spending a day together as Nancy ran a few errands for her father.
"Did Togo really do that?" said Helen as she finally calmed down her giggles, somewhat.
Nancy was chuckling as she replied, "Oh, yes! You should have seen Hannah's face! She was furious, and rightfully so! I mean, she had just finished mopping when Togo dragged in all that mud!" She paused as she let out another laugh. "But man, oh man, Togo was such a ham! I swear he seemed to stick up his nose at Hannah as she fussed at him!" The two teens burst into laughter again.
"My word, Togo must keep you three on your toes!"
"Oh, you have no idea," said Nancy as she pushed on the brakes, bringing the car to a stop at a red light. "Hannah says he's almost like a toddler at the rate he's going. Hopefully by the time he's two he has matured enough that we don't have to worry about this anymore." The titian-haired girl let out a chuckle. "Though it definitely is good for a good laugh." The light turned green and Nancy returned her foot to the accelerator.
Helen chuckled. "I bet. Who knew such a little dog could have such a big personality?"
Nancy merely grinned. "Well, what did you expect from a Scottish terrier? But you have to admit, he does learn from the best."
"You mean you?" said Helen, a mischievous sparkle in her brown eyes.
Nancy shot her brunette friend a look out of the corner of her eye before quickling returning her attention to the road. But the sparkle in her blue eyes seemed to say Helen hit the nail on the head. "Possibly."
Helen snorted. "Possibly? Really Nancy? He gets the majority of his sass from you! I'm always hearing about Hannah saying that Togo was just like you when you were younger! Of course I can't compare because I haven't spent as much time with Togo as I have with you."
Nancy laughed. "Guess Togo has some growing up to do."
Helen snorted. "And you have to help him mature."
Nancy scoffed. "Yeah, yeah. Hannah seemed to do just fine with me."
"Uh-huh, sure. I'm sure she wouldn't mind the extra help."
"Oh don't worry, I don't leave her all the time without help. I just couldn't yesterday because I was laughing so hard."
Helen chuckled. "After what you told me, I don't blame you. But think of it this way, it'll be good practice for when you get married to a certain pen pal and have kids of your own." She winked.
"Ugh, Helen!" Nancy blushed.
Helen giggled. "Sorry, Nan, but like George said, it's too easy. And you had to get Bess caught up in it too."
Nancy grinned at that. "Not my fault he's got a cute brother."
"But it is your fault that your friend is such a flirt."
"Hey, Bess is just as much as your friend as she is mine."
Helen laughed. "I know, I know. Too bad George isn't here, she'd have something else to say about Bess."
"That she would."
"Lucky them, getting to go the the beach this summer." Helen glanced out the window with a dreamy sigh. "Must be quite a few handsome guys there this time of year."
Nancy laughed. "Oh I'm sure Bess will tell us all about it. George will just tell us about the waves."
Helen chuckled, then let out a gasp. "Lilac Inn!" The quaint bed-and-breakfast came into view . Two tall lilac trees stood at either end of the building while rows of bushes and flowers lined the front of the building.
Nancy began slowing down the car as she looked for the entrance to the parking lot. "Do you want to check up on Emily?"
Helen bit her lip. "I, I don't know. I haven't seen her since the funeral. She didn't want anyone to talk to her."
Nancy put on her blinker. "Maybe because everyone was talking to her the wrong way. Besides, it's been three months. Someone needs to check up on her."
"Oh, but . . ."
Nancy pulled in. "It's a restaurant too, right? It's lunch time, and we should eat. What better excuse than that?"
Helen pursed her lips before letting out a sigh as Nancy parked. "Oh, fine. But if Emily doesn't want to see us at all, we leave immediately."
"After we've had our lunch," said Nancy with finality. She glanced at Helen with sorrow in her eyes. "Besides, I know all too well what it's like losing a mother."
Helen nodded. "Alright, you take the lead. I know I'll mess it up, as always."
Nancy smiled as she grabbed her purse and opened her door. "You don't mess up everything. We're friends, remember?"
Helen chuckled softly as she grabbed her purse. "You're right. Alright, let's do this." The two climbed out of the blue roadster and walked towards the front door. A pretty sign swung in the breeze. Nancy could see the words "Lilac Inn" were etched on it with boughs of lilacs painted around the edge. She led the way into the inn. A woman with stylish red hair was standing near a grand staircase.
She greeted them with a smile. "Hello, welcome to Lilac Inn. Are you looking for room or just lunch?"
Nancy smiled back. "We're here for lunch, and a friend."
The woman glanced at her quizzically. "Friends of Mary Mason?"
"Oh no," said Helen quickly. "Emily Crandall."
The woman's eyes widened. "Friends of Emily?"
"Yes," said Nancy.
"Oh, I'm so glad you've come! I'm at my wit's end! I'm her guardian, Jane Willoughby. Emily's practically holed herself up in her room and, well, here, why don't I show you. Place your order now and I'll send Mary up with it." The woman handed each girl a menu, a piece of paper, and a pen.
"Oh, but, what if Emily doesn't want to see us?" blurted Helen as Nancy perused the menu and wrote down her order.
"I hope she does. She needs to see someone! I think someone she knows would be the best bet, seeing as how we only met once I got wind of her mother's passing."
"Were you and Mrs. Crandall close?" said Nancy while Helen wrote down her order.
"Were we close? But of course! Gloria and I were the best of friends. We did a lot of sewing together, back in the day, but Gloria always had a knack for the culinary arts. I just keep wondering why she didn't let me know she was battling cancer. I would have come out here straight away to spend some time with her, and to meet her little girl. And I had been meaning to come out here quite a bit too, but I kept putting it off." Jane let out a sigh. "I knew I should have come out here. Oh well, what's done is done, and now I have a depressed teen to take care of and an inn to run."
"We'll see what we can do to help Emily, Mrs. Willoughby," said Nancy.
"Oh, just call me Jane, and thank you ever so much. Are your orders ready?" The girls handed Jane the slips of paper. "Wonderful. Mary! Oh, Mary!"
A young woman who looked no more than twenty with her blonde hair pulled back into a bun came around the corner. "Yes Miss Jane?"
"Please take these orders to the chef and deliver them to Emily's room when they're done. These two young ladies are friends of Emily, and I hope they can help her."
"Of course, I hope they can help her too." Mary took the orders and went into the kitchen.
"Please follow me quickly, "said Jane as she started up the grand staircase, "I cannot leave the hostess station for long. We don't have very many people working here, and though we're somewhat busy, we still don't make enough to hire more people." Jane let out a sigh as they reached the landing. "That's at least something I do know."
"Um, Jane?" Jane paused in the hall and looked at Nancy. "Have you, have you had a chance to mourn Mrs. Crandall?"
Jane's lips quivered. "I, I haven't quite found the time."
Nacy let out a sad sigh as she patted Jane's shoulder. "I can't help you today, but, maybe tomorrow I can come and take over looking after the inn so you can grieve."
"I . . . I don't know if you can handle it. I barely can!"
"I can help her," Helen quickly volunteered. She put her arm around Nancy. "We've been friends since kindergarten, we know how to work together quite well."
"Well, I'd like to take you up on your offer, but . . ."
"Jane, if we come across any problems, we'll call you," said Nancy reassuringly.
"Alright, I guess we have a deal," said Jane as she held out her hand. Nancy shook on it. "Come in tomorrow at seven, I can get you acquainted with what you have to do before the restaurant officially opens."
The girls nodded. "Sounds good," said Nancy.
"Now, for Emily," said Jane as she led them to the door at the end of the hall. She knocked on it before opening it slightly and poking her head through the crack. "Emily? Some friends are here to see you." Nancy and Helen didn't hear anything, but Jane opened the door wider and ushered them in. There, curled up on the bed, was Emily Crandall. Her once long hair was now cut short, barely reaching her neck, and her doe eyes were red and brimming with tears. But they widened when she saw who her visitors were.
"Nancy? Helen?" Her voice came out in a croak.
"Emily!" Helen rushed into the room and wrapped Emily up in a hug.
"What, what are you doing here?"
"Listen, I know you're really not interested in seeing us, but, you really can't stay in here forever!" Helen glanced at Nancy before looking back at Emily. "Besides, everyone's worried about you. We haven't heard from you in weeks!"
"And no one bothered to come to the inn to check up on you," muttered Nancy.
"And I've been so swamped I didn't call anyone," said Jane with a sigh as she wiped a tear from her eye.
"Don't blame yourself," said Nancy with a reassuring smile as she patted Jane's shoulder. Jane shot her a sad smile, but she still seemed apologetic.
Helen let out a sigh. "What's done is done, we're here now." She turned back to Emily. "Please let us help you get through this." Emily nodded as tears began to fall. Helen seemed to wrap her up in a tighter hug.
Nancy walked over to the bed and placed her hand on Emily's shoulder. "Just tell us what you need."
Emily nodded as she sniffled. "P-please stay, for a little while," she whispered.
Nancy patted Emily's shoulder. "Of course. We ordered lunch."
"Mary should be bringing it up in a few minutes," said Jane. She glanced between Helen and Nancy. "How, how long will you be able to stay?"
Nancy took a quick glance at the clock. "I think we can stay for about an hour. I still have to run a few more errands for my father before we get back home."
"Yes, thank you. I need to get back to the hostess podium. I'll come back up and check on you when it's slow."
Nancy nodded. "Of course."
Jane smiled. "Thank you again." She glanced at Emily with a tear falling down her cheek before closing the door and heading back down the stairs. Nancy and Helen turned to comforting Emily, though the majority of it consisted of them just holding her in silence.
Mary brought up their plates of food, with an extra one for Emily, and left quickly. The three girls ate their food in silence.
"I'm … so … sorry," said Emily between sniffles once they had finished their meal.
Nancy placed her arm around Emily's shoulder and gave it a sympathetic squeeze. "There's nothing to be sorry about," she said calmly, "you've lost your mother. You need enough time to grieve."
"And we're here for you, "said Helen, "we've always been here for you. Always remember that." Emily nodded with a sniffle before lowering her head down on Helen's shoulder. Nancy and Helen ended up staying for a little more than an hour, but when they left, Emily was sound asleep.
Nancy quietly and quickly gathered the dishes while Helen tucked Emily into her bed. She grabbed their purses and followed Nancy out of the room, closing the door quietly behind them. Jane nearly tackled them with hugs when they reached the bottom of the stairs and told her Emily was sound asleep.
"I can't thank you enough for what you're doing for us," said Jane as she took the pile of dirty dishes from Nancy.
"Thank us when you're finally back on your feet," said Nancy with a smile. "But I'm afraid we really must go now, we stayed a little too late. But we'll see you tomorrow at seven."
"Sounds wonderful, even though I really wish I didn't have to put this on your shoulders."
"Don't worry, everything will be fine. See you tomorrow!" Nancy and Helen waved to Jane as they quickly dashed out the door.
"See you tomorrow!" Jane's voice followed them out.
The girls quickly left the inn and finished the errands that Mr. Drew asked Nancy to do, which was dropping off some papers with some clients and picking up others. The rest of the ride had been silent, each girl just about lost in her own thoughts.
Nancy dropped Helen off at her home with a simple "See you tomorrow," before heading back home. She parked her car in the garage and sat there for a minute, letting the emotions of the day wash over her. She had the distinct sense of deja vu, it almost was like losing her own mother all over again. Tears began to fall, and Nancy let them fall. It had been six years since her own mother passed, the first two of which seemed long and agonizing. George, Bess, and Helen did the best they could, with the help of their mothers, to help Nancy and her father through that time. But ultimately it had been Hannah Gruen, the woman who used to be just the weekly maid, who really came through for them. She practically moved in and became like a second mother to Nancy. The rumors were still wondering when Mr. Drew was going to marry her. As such, everyone kept calling her Mrs. Gruen, even though she wasn't married.
"Why Nancy!" Hannah's head appeared at Nancy's window. "What's wrong? Why have you been crying?"
Nancy took a tissue from her purse and dapped at her eyes before she blew her nose into the tissue. "Um, Helen and I, we, uh, visited Emily Crandall. I was just thinking about Mom." Nancy opened her door and stepped out, practically into Hannah's loving embrace. Hannah held her close. "It still hurts."
"Of course it does, darling, it really hasn't been that long since you lost her." Nancy nodded, sniffling. "Now, come on, I've been waiting eagerly for you to get home. I have an important message waiting for you."
"What's that?" asked Nancy as she dried her eyes.
"Your pen pals called. Really Nancy, how come you haven't given your cell number to your pen pals yet?"
"It just feels weird for a pen pal to become a phone pal," said Nancy with a slight chuckle. "Besides, which pen pals called?"
"Oh and they said you needed to call them back right away!" said Hannah as she led the way back into the the house.
Nancy quickly followed Hannah into the house. "Hannah! Who called?"
Hannah turned towards her with a hint of worry in her eyes. "The Hardy boys, and they said it was urgent!"