Authors: Liz Reinhardt
2012 by Liz Reinhardt
All rights reserved worldwide under the Berne Convention.
May not be copied or distributed without prior written permission.
Cover Design by Stephanie Mooney
My grandmother's pearls slide soft and cool against the skin of my neck as I twist them nervously.
I always ima
gined myself fingering them just before I
down the aisl
e on my wedding day, their
gold hue complimenting a snow white wedding dress that showed a tasteful amount of skin and hugged me in all the right places.
I had no idea I'd get a chance to wear them so much sooner, and for such an embarrassing reason.
This morning she inserts the
little gold hook into the eye-shaped clasp and presses it tight, her dry fingertips light and gentle on my shoulders, the softly sweet, rich smell of her perfume reassuring in my nostrils.
"Ninety percent of this entire ordeal is how you look, sugar. Keep that backbone straight, but don't you dare even
one solitary saucy thought. You don't have what it takes to keep your temper off your face."
glance up at her reflection
in the gold-framed mirror of my vanity, and guilt gives a long, silent scream in the back of my brain. There are lines between her ash-blond eyebrows I can't recall being there before I became a permanent fixture in her
life. Her smile strains across her face and her blue eyes, the same light, icy blue as mine, are dull with worry.
Granddaddy stands in the doorway and clears his throat, too much of a marrow-deep gentleman to feel comfortable entering any lady's room while she is dressing.
helps me slide my arms into the navy and white seersucker jacket that gives me an aura of demure sweetness.
"I'm ready, Granddaddy. You can come in."
All-encompassing shame shudders through me like a tiny tropical storm bashing underneath a bell jar. G
randdaddy walks up to me, the sodden weight of his steps making guilt prick
at my eyes
stinging as a
', you look a picture. No man in his right mind, judge or no
, could see a young lady so beautiful and fail to realize this is all just a big misunderstanding."
His breath wheezes from his mouth in labored
gasps. August is an uncompromisingly
hot month in Georgia, and the humidity makes his lungs constrict. It's painful for
and I to see Granddaddy operating at less than his usual cyclone-riding-a-galloping-mustang energy level.
"I'll be fine.
No matter what the judge decides."
I pressure my lips to curve in a perfect, patient smile that is an undeniable family
heirloom, passed down from my grandmother
like a birthright. Composure in the face of any obs
tacle is just how the women of
our stock function.
"I can't believe that boy's family wasn't willing to make peace over this whole...misunderstanding." Granddaddy's bright white mustache quivers with rage. "I understand a family's connection to their land, but it was just a bunch of damn nut trees."
elbow and runs her hand in relaxing
circles on his forearm. "Come and let's have some sweet tea.
made a big batch before she left last night. Come on, now. Evan needs to get a move-on, or she'll be late."
"Shouldn't we go with her?" Granddaddy demands for the hundredth time, and my heart squeezes with love for him.
It’s beyond sweet that he’s so focused on me and my crazy dilemma, especially
considering the fact that
sweet tea is usually enough to tempt that man away from even golf, his primary obsession.
"No, Granddaddy. This is my own mess, and I'm going
to take care of it all by myself
Before he can protest, I hike up on my toes and pop a kiss on his cheek and my grandmother's, making a registered effort to avoid looking either of them directly in the eye. "Plus that, we have a strategy we need to stick with. I show up with you, and the judge assumes I think I can get myself out of this using my name."
"You should be able to." He rubs the spot just over his heart with short, firm strokes of his fin
gers, a tic that always rears its head
when he's particularly annoyed.
I'd worry, but his doctor
says he has the heart of an ox.
"I'll be just fine,
I reassure them both, turning away from their worried faces.
I kept a firm hold on those
, confident words like they’re
my life-jacket in a shipwreck, because I don't feel nearly as confident as I sound.
I run my hand down the shiny, curved wood of the left stai
rcase that leads into the gleam of our
crystal-filled front foyer, m
y feet tripping over the
marble tiles before I
, so stagna
nt the air feels heavy and dead.
cool interior of
as quickly as possible and head to court early
I manage to hang on to my
cheery forced optimism all the way to the courth
, in through the metal-
detectors, and right up to the doorway of my assigned
courtroom, but that's where I watch my confidence explode
like a water ballo
on dropped to the cement from
thirty stories up.
I'm positive the splash of my shattered courage should be audible, but no one gives so much as a quarter
Lawyers with scuffed briefcases, a man with slicked-back hair and a clip-on tie, and a woman in saggy sweatpants rolled at the waist walk by, but no one notices me skulking in the
My gold watch flashes
from the limp bend of my wrist, warning me not to be tardy, not to make a bigger, more complicated
mess of this than I already have
I'm tempted to call my best friend, my life-line, Brenna, but what would she say? She'd make me go in, and I
can't do that
So I sit on the chilly slate floor, not worried about the wrinkles setting in
on the sheath dress
pressed for me this morning. I bury my head in my clammy hands a
nd resolve to stare at the tiles until I manage to convince them
to open wide and ingest me whole.
A voice punctures through my self-pity and fear. A smooth, obnoxiously confident voice with the undercurrent of an accent I've never heard before and can't place.
"Are you nervous?"
The words are overly familiar, like he's backstage with me before a big recital or at my
side at that
second when I
my mother disappeared on another bender.
I focus on the p
olished shine of his black boots
and try not to admit that his voice is a sweet caress in m
y ears, despite my brain’s strong
and warning bells
"I'm fine. I just...needed a second.
It may be the most idiotic thing I've ever uttered, but I refuse to back down from my resolve to sit on this floor.
For a second.
Like I said.
The boots shift slightly, and I realize he's leaned over to open the door of the courtroom. A woman thanks him in a high, nervous voice.
"You're welcome, ma'am."
My head whips up at the 'ma'am.'
Not that I haven't heard that word spilled like sticky sweet syrup from a thousand mouths of a thousand boys who've been born and bred to use it every day.
There’s something about
boy, the way that word
tongue, buoyed with cautious respect and elegant pleasure.
Like he loves saying the word.
Like his lips weigh the worth of it.
I crane my neck
, and he's looking down at me with half a twisted smile, his hand extended. I put my freshly manicured hand into his, rough with
, and he coaxes me to stand up with a gentle tug, so I'm suddenly nestled
se to the lean, towering height of him
"Have you had long enough?
The questions are sweet, but his lips have a twisted curve that makes my heart double-beat to the tune of one word:
I smell him, and it's a smell that's not part of the deep, salty
of this area. It's clean and fresh and sweet.
Something foreign and intoxicating.
It smells like clover, wet with a sheen of overnight dew.
"I've had long enough." I pull my hand from his, reluctantly, and press my palms down the front of my skirt. For an instant, the wrinkles smooth out, but the second I take my hands away, they spring back. I can't keep the
of my tongue locked in my mouth.
h scatters a
little too loud for this dim, serious court hallway.
"Hey." He says it informally, like we've known each other forever, and I move a step back to keep him out of m
y physical territory while the
imprint of his
laugh twines through my neu
"You can get away with them."
His eyes are blue, but not glacial frozen blue like mine. His are like sun-warmed
blueberries, dark denim blue, well-deep and framed by overlong jet black lashes. He blinks slowly, and his
lean, chiseled face is relaxed and
calm despite its cut lines.
"Get away with what?" I keep my voice coolly unaffected.
His eyes train on me, he leans over, and his words weasel in my ears and prickle down my backbone.
You're too pretty to bother worrying about any of that. The first thing p
eople notice is your face. O
nce they notice that, there's
no noticing anything else. Trust me on this one."
He tilts his head to the
, indicating that we should go
into the courtroom, and I notice that his short, dark hair is newly cut, expertly done.
"That's the worst pick-up line I've ever heard," I tell him, but a
shiver of appreciation bolts through me before it disappears, like that magical fragment of a second when a snowflake lands on your tongue, perfect and whole before it melts into oblivion.
"I'm not trying to pick you up." His eyes are dancing, a jig, the robot, the
, and I work to keep my lips in a neat, straight line. "Judge
is a stickler for being on time, and we're two minutes