While in Lahaina Town, I wandered into the various stores. I was entranced by the bold Hawaiian print shirts and dresses, and the many variations of jewelry that celebrated the flowers of the islands—plumeria, orchids, and birds of paradise. A striking ring caught my eye. It had three beautiful elongated white pearls nestled together like a flower sitting next to a piece of smooth black coral. The pearls and coral were embraced by a gold flowering vine. I tried it on. It fit my finger perfectly and its uniqueness captivated me. Without a second thought, I pulled out the credit card John gave me that morning. He told me to buy anything my heart desired, and so I did. In those days, almost forty-years ago, the clerk didn’t hesitate to take the prestigious American Express Credit Card with a man’s name on it, assuming I was using my husband’s credit card. I simply signed Mrs. John Stewart, Jr., and the $400 ring was mine. That was the beginning of a bad habit, but it was a heady time for me. I had married a wealthy man—an entrepreneur who owned a large home on several acres of land, a thriving grocery store and wholesale meat business, rental properties along the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a beach house near Santa Barbara—and I wanted the trapping that went with that wealth. I desired the jewelry, clothing and furs that I’d seen on the wives of his friends. My pedestrian clothing from J.C. Penney and Sears wouldn’t do now with my new life—I wanted things, beautiful things from I. Magnin and J.W. Robinson’s.
I knew very well that my husband’s wealth was not mine, not even now that I was John’s wife. Buying the ring with his credit card may have made it seem so, but it was not. This hard reality of my status came upon me suddenly three days before the wedding when John called me at my home in the San Fernando Valley.
“Veronica,” John said, “I’m coming into the city tomorrow and I need you to meet me.” Surprised, I asked, “What for?”
“We have to meet with my attorney,” he said. His tone was matter-of-fact, as if we needed to meet with the owner of the local hardware store to buy a new faucet. I knew John rarely drove into “the city,” meaning Los Angeles, and I regarded his expression as incredibly provincial for a well-heeled businessman. Nevertheless, it was the word “attorney” that made my stomach clench. I took a deep breath and spilled out the inevitable question: “Why?”
“Some papers need to be signed,” he said. “You know, so that everything will go smoothly for the wedding in Hawaii.”
The intuition that I relied upon as a discerning newspaper reporter should have kicked in, but it failed me as I walked open-hearted with John into his attorney’s office the next day on my lunch hour. The office was located in a high-priced building on Cahuenga Boulevard not far from where I worked as the editor for a weekly newspaper in Toluca Lake.
John introduced me to Alfred Whitcomb, a man in his mid-fifties with dark hair thinning at the back of this head. He was tall, like John, and affable, smiling broadly as we were introduced, saying he had heard so much about me, and he expressed his happiness for the both of us.
As I sat down near the attorney’s desk, I suddenly realized my mouth was terribly dry and I had difficulty swallowing. The office emitted the odor of money—the tang of the leather couch beckoning one to sink into its smoothness and the espresso coffee maker steaming its robust contents in the corner on a sleek teakwood table adorned with mocha-colored Italian cups and matching saucers. The walls were covered with rows of book shelves filled with legal tomes that made me feel vulnerable. John stood behind me, his hands on my shoulders, and I recall he was dressed in a beautiful white golf shirt with tan Hagar slacks.
Alfred cleared his throat. “Veronica, as John’s legal advisor, I have told him that you and he need to sign a prenuptial agreement.”
“A what?” I asked, dumbfounded.
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