Read Rich Friends Online

Authors: Jacqueline; Briskin

Rich Friends





Rich Friends

Jacqueline Briskin

This, with all our love, is for





who have brought us much joy.


Chapter One


On this particular blazing Saturday afternoon in June of 1946, the cloudless sky above Glendale appeared a deeper blue than normal. The air held crystal clarity. Sound traveled immense distances, and you could hear a faraway whistle of the Southern Pacific passing through, hear the tinkle of a Good Humor truck with its trail of excited children's voices.

Glendale is one of the numerous suburbs that form Los Angeles. It is barricaded on the north by the tall, gloomy San Gabriel Mountains, which sometimes in a cold winter have a gravel of snow and after a hot summer will turn dry and black. As if to deny this living harshness, the eternal green necropolis of Forest Lawn coils in the heart of Glendale. Westward sprawls the San Fernando Valley—in those days a cheap whore selling her body without plan to GI housing tracts and factories. Driving east over the tall Arroyo Seco Bridge—nicknamed Suicide Bridge—puts you in wealthy Pasadena. Large homes separated and hidden by acres of pruned shrubbery. In Pasadena lived some of the Van Vliets, the supermarket Van Vliets. (The family was large, intertwining through Los Angeles with other good families rather like royalty.) Pasadenans did not look down on Glendale. They were oblivious of the neighboring suburb.

In Glendale, houses were small, edged with well-watered grass. Trim Protestant spires rose through billowing summer green of elm, sycamore, birch. If that afternoon you had ventured onto the wide, sunstruck business streets, no crowd would have jostled you, you wouldn't have been annoyed by the hot dog– or chili bowl–shape stands seen in other areas—there was a local ordinance against such extrusions.

When movie studios wanted a middle-class reaction, they held a sneak preview at the Alexander. For Glendale, wedged into a city already known as futuristic, oddball, home of lotus eaters, was a core of insular America. Here, people overlooked the terrible chasm of the recent war, gazing back to our earlier time of naiveté. Glendale was the honest, true place that Kate Smith's hearty voice sang of, the unambiguous good life that Norman Rockwell's
Saturday Evening Post
covers had graven on our hearts. Teachers here enthused about equality to white faces. And the people did believe they dwelt in the best of all possible melting pots—refusing to admit within the boundaries of their suburb any evidence to the contrary. A few veterans might privately brood on implications of their recent horrors, but for the most part a man adjusted, slipping his ruptured duck in his wide, civvy lapel, returning to clear up his desk. Glendale had no use for the foreign craze of fifty-minute hours.

The young faced the future as the young always have everywhere, as a new chapter to be written, dice yet to be thrown. It was impossible for them to gauge how marked the pages, how weighted the die, in this Truman era, in the dawn of the atomic age.

Beverly Linde, who was eighteen, stood in the hedged drive of a tile-roofed bungalow. She was lighting a cigarette. In the back garden Em and Sheridan Reed's wedding reception had been in full, sweaty swing for almost two hours. Em (née Wynan) was the elder sister of Caroline Wynan, Beverly's best friend. And Beverly knew she had only a few minutes' grace before Caroline came and dragged her back. In the green shade of the ivy hedge, though, Beverly was freed of the crowd, able to forget her self-consciousness, forget that she was so different from the other young people whose voices she could hear. Sometimes she thought she was different because she was Jewish. Since this was a fact she never mentioned unless pressed to the wall, she hadn't been able to discuss it, not even with Caroline. Or maybe, more simply, it was because she enjoyed being alone. Sketching. Painting. Before she had started school, when she was very young, she had been happy. That was before she knew it was contemptible to enjoy solitude.

She was a slender girl with soft brown hair. Her mouth, under the too-dark lipstick of the time, gave an impression of great gentleness. She wasn't pretty, but that didn't matter, not once you noticed the eyes. The eyes were memorable. Amber eyes that darkened when she was upset, eyes that one would swear could see things invisible.

She wasn't a real smoker. She puffed, gazing dreamily through the wisps. Cordell Road was lined with eucalyptus: with their sad, moulting bark, the trees reminded Beverly of a parade of elderly circus camels.

A pod clunked on a well-kept-up prewar Nash that undoubtedly belonged to one of Dr. and Mrs. Wynan's family friends. (Dr. Wynan's lackluster dental practice was drawn from these friends.) The battered jalopies were owned by dates of the Omega Deltas, the bride's sorority sisters who were also Beverly and Caroline's sorority sisters. The Lincoln Continentals, the Cadillacs with jump seats, had borne Mrs. Wynan's relations, the Van Vliets, from Pasadena and other wealthy sections. The black Daimler with the colored chauffeur leaning against the hood belonged to Mrs. Hendryk Van Vliet, the bride's grandmother. The limousine was far too aristocratic for Cordell Road.
The Van Vliets, you know, Van Vliet's supermarkets
, Beverly had heard other guests whisper.
Mrs. Wynan is one—her mother is the real big shot
. And they would throw awed glances at Mrs. Van Vliet, a tiny, imperious old lady who wore her hazelnut-size diamond and huge emerald as if they sprang from the bones of her wrinkled, elegant fingers.

Beverly took another puff. I shouldn't be out here. Why aren't I in back, drinking champagne and laughing and enjoying myself like everyone else? Why? Nobody sneaks away from parties. I'm the most abnormal hermit. Why solitude … These thoughts were too vague to put into words. They were more like a haze of guilt surrounding that mysterious element: her dislocation from other people.

She gazed around, hugging the perfect California summer afternoon to herself. In desert clarity, the purple-creased San Gabriel Mountains seemed touchable. Shadows half-covered the Wynans' house, painted for the occasion, and on this side, rough stucco didn't appear its brutal new salmon but a deep, lovely garnet. Again Beverly examined the eucalyptus. They really are pathetic, she thought, and went over to trace shaggy bark with two fingers, as if she were petting an animal. Her smile was dreamy, gentle. And agonizingly vulnerable.


Behind the house, the reception. In russet shadows of the liquid amber trees, hatted women chatted and laughing men held flanged glasses. Across the lawn two small girls pirouetted, organdy skirts ballooning. A young masculine voice shouted, “Charge!” and a burst of laughter rose from the patio. Here, despite the blazing slant of afternoon sun, young people crowded. A waiter with growing dark half moons under his white sleeves dispensed tepid California champagne, slowly and ungenerously—he was down to three bottles. Nearby, another damask-covered picnic table, this dedicated to food. Hot sun had hardened circles of bread into shells around pastel spreads that gave off sharp odors of anchovy and deviled ham: green and white mints stuck together and napkins no longer fanned to show silver-imprinted names.
. Caroline Wynan maintained less hours had been spent negotiating the entire Japanese peace treaty than deciding whether to print her sister's given name or the initial by which she'd always been known. Mrs. Wynan and Em finally had opted for
. Van Vliets would be in attendance, and therefore, they had concluded, utmost formality was in order.

The long, wavery line had kissed the bride, congratulated the groom, exclaimed to Dr. and Mrs. Wynan how lovely the ceremony at St. Mark's Episcopal had been, and now the couple stood by themselves on the path leading from the patio to the barbecue.

Em, a short, small-boned girl, was surprisingly ample of bosom, an endowment she disguised. Her rayon-satin wedding gown was ruched in the matronly style of Princess Elizabeth. Under Max Factor pancake were the ghosts of wrinkles to come, slight parentheses from the corners of her tilted nose to her mouth: her sandy hair had been permanented two days earlier—the froth of tulle mercifully hid most of the resulting frizz. Yet Em, in her diminutive way, was appealing, especially when she smiled. And she was smiling up at Sheridan.

Em always had been popular with girls. With boys, not so. The men her age—twenty-two—had spent four years of their lives making democracy live, yet from her infrequent blind dates with servicemen, she knew, just knew, she didn't have the same flirtatious knack as her high-handed younger sister. With men sometimes Em was afflicted by a nervous stammer. She had met Sheridan a few weeks after he had started USC on the GI Bill. Newspapers and magazines might be full of statistics, the returned warriors marrying at an unprecedented rate, but Em—how could Em see this wedding as anything short of a miracle? From time to time she reassured herself by gripping Sheridan's hand, the left one with the gold ring, size 9, $12.50. Her size 4 had cost him the same. When she had asked the jeweler why, he had thrown in the engraving:
. If Em had known how to politely rephrase the question, she would have asked again. She liked rational explanations. She liked fairness. It was irrational and unfair, both, making Sheridan pay the same for half the amount of gold.

Sheridan's double-breasted, rented tuxedo stretched across wide shoulders. Under close-cropped dark hair, his big features might easily have been considered homely if it weren't for a tautness across his cheekbones and around his full, dark lips. It was this brooding tension—actually a kind of anger—that gave Sheridan tremendous SA, or so the Omega Deltas agreed. (That he was attractive to other girls excited Em almost as much as it worried her.) He had two more years until he was a pharmacist. She had just graduated and her teaching credential was going to help support them—so many girls were putting GI husbands through school nowadays, and Em in her serious way had decided this was a tremendous advance over Mother's time: she would be an equal partner in Sheridan's career.

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