Holy hell, she had apparently been reading some crappy romance novels for her dialogue. Holding back my laughter was giving me a headache. If I only had a tape recorder . . . Fuck, if I had a tape recorder I could have blackmailed her into not blackmailing us. I could probably use my phone, but any movement on my part was impossible.
Jack bit back his fury and walked slowly toward her.
“That’s right,” she purred. “Come to mama.”
About a foot and a half away from her, just out of reach, Jack dropped to one knee. Holy shit, was he going to do this? “What do you have on my grandpa and Rena, Ms. O’Hara?” The bridled anger in his voice would have scared the shit out of me, but Evangeline was either too stupid or horny to notice. “Tell me right now,” he ground out through clenched teeth.
Evangeline, looking up from her pose, finally had the wherewithal to be alarmed by the furious man she was trying to blackmail for sex. “Call me Evangeline, darling,” she said huskily, hoping to distract him.
“What do you have on them?” His barely controlled fury was making her more nervous than I’d ever seen her, but Evangeline never lost and she wasn’t about to start now.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she laughed.
“As a matter of fact, I would.” He pulled out his phone and held it up in front of him. “Smile, Evangeline,” he said.
She did. She even arched her back, so her rack would be more evident. Like that was an issue. “Oh, Jimmy, are these for your private collection?” she tittered seductively, pulling her shirt down off one shoulder to give him a better view of her cavernous cleavage.
He continued to take pictures. She hiked her skirt up and revealed what I already expected. She was going commando. “No,” Jack shouted, right before she flashed her goodies. “These are art shots, not sick porn.” His relief as she let her skirt fall back into place was hilarious.
“Of course, darling, sexy art shots, so you can masturbate while looking at pictures of me.” She smiled as well as she could with her face in a semiparalysis from the Botox.
“These aren’t for me,” he said and popped his phone back into his pocket. “They’re for Facebook, unless you’d like to share what you have on my grandfather and girlfriend.” Did he just call me his girlfriend? No way, he’d lost all rights to that term about ten hours ago.
“That will never happen, my love,” she hissed. “Now come over here and put your big manly hands on my bosom.”
“Put your hands on your head, Evangeline,” Jack replied sharply.
“Oooh, we’re back to the kinky,” she said with rabid excitement. She slowly reached up, her eyes never leaving his, and delicately laid her claws on her head. The look on her face was one I’d never forget as long as I lived, but her scream . . . her scream almost broke my eardrums. “My hair,” she shrieked. “What have you done with my hair?”
“Don’t worry,” he said, smiling, “your hair will not be harmed as long as you cooperate.”
“If that’s your ace in the hole, you’re screwed,” she spat. “I have forty wigs upstairs.”
“Oh, Evangeline, I believe you may have forgotten I just took three pictures of you. Bald and sprawled. If these pictures get out, it might be a bit damaging to your image.” Holy shit, he was brilliant.
She glared at him with burning eyes. “What do you want?”
“Here’s the deal. I will ask you three questions. For each satisfactory answer, I will erase a picture. If I don’t get what I want, I will go home and upload your shiny head onto Facebook for all the world to see. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes,” she shouted, frantically scanning the floor for her hair.
“What do you have on my grandfather?”
“Well, um, there are a lot of things and I can’t recall exactly what . . .” she stammered.
“Not satisfactory,” Jack barked and Evangeline jumped.
“Fine. We couldn’t find anything on your grandfather. He’s clean,” she said, her lips thinning with anger. Jack erased one picture.
“The little slut?” she laughed. “I have plenty on her. She tried to steal from me, to the tune of three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. Jewels,” she hissed, “she stole my jewels.”
“Don’t you ever, ever call her a slut again. If there’s a slut around here, it’s you.” I heard the Viper’s sharp intake of breath. Jack continued, “Is that all you have on Rena?”
“Isn’t that enough? I could send her away for years if I chose to press charges. The jewels were in the box she tried to escape with when you arrested her.” She smiled nastily.
Jack erased another picture. “There’s a small problem with that. The box was empty,” he gave her a nasty smile back.
Evangeline blanched, dragged herself over to her hair, and slapped the wig back on her head. Was he on the last question? Shit, I needed that picture. I could end all the heartache of my friends with that picture. The second half of our not very well-thought-out plan would work if I only had that damn picture, but then I’d be no better than her. I’d be a blackmailing viper just like she was. Maybe she’d fuck up the last answer and he’d post her bald head on Facebook. That could easily break her, and the girls would be free. I held my breath and waited.
“How is my sergeant involved in this?”
“It’s not just your sergeant, it’s that little midget, too,” she laughed, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. She’d sell anyone down the river to save her own bald head.
“Answer the question,” Jack snapped. I knew this was difficult for him. Being a cop was sacred. He would have a very hard time with what he was about to find out.
“I pay them,” she said flippantly.
“You what?” Jack was floored.
“I. Pay. Them. They do whatever I want them to do, whenever I tell them to do it,” she leered.
“That’s against the law and totally unethical.” Jack’s curt voice lashed out at her.
“Welcome to the real world, pretty boy. Now erase the picture and empty the trash.”
My heart sank as the only thing that could save my friends disappeared.
“How long has this been going on?” he demanded.
“That’s question number four and you’re out of pictures,” she spat. “But just because it seems so painful to you, I think I’ll answer that. Ten years. Ten years those weak bastards have been on my payroll . . . and it’s worth every penny.”
Jack’s fists clenched by his sides. I could feel him fighting every instinct he had. His breathing was uneven and his cheeks were flushed.
“By the way,” she continued, triumphantly, “you’ll never be able to prove any of this. It’s just your word against mine.”
“By the way,” Jack replied, as he moved toward the front door, “you are the most repulsive excuse for a woman I’ve ever seen. Take care. I’ll be seeing you soon . . . in court.”
“Don’t bet on it,” she spat, looking uglier than I’d ever seen her look.
I had to stay hidden for another twenty minutes until her screaming fit ended and I was sure she was gone. If Jack had just believed me this morning, I could have saved him from this, but he hadn’t. Although the situation was horrid, it was comforting to see him one more time. No time for pity parties. He thought I was crazy and wanted nothing to do with me. I looked down at myself all tangled up in baby pink rhinestone curtain, my dress more wrinkled than it had been when I had put it on, and realized he was right . . . I was crazy and it never would have worked with us.
Fuck it, I’d go be with people who celebrated crazy and practiced it on a daily basis . . . my family.
he party was in full swing when I finally got there. Over a hundred people were mingling in one of the nicer rooms at the back of the country club. Thank Jesus it was a buffet. Getting stuck with the same people at a table for an entire evening might have just killed me. Mom and Dad were as happy as they’d ever been, greeting friends and laughing at scary Midwestern humor. I caught them lovingly staring at each other on and off. How in the hell could they still be in love after forty years but I couldn’t seem to keep a boyfriend more than three weeks?
“Rena,” Aunt Phyllis called out from the other side of the room. I waved and she came barreling over. “Kim and Hugh came to my house last night and we had the best time.”
“That’s great.” I smiled, having no clue who Kim and Hugh were. Were they Martians? Trolls? Gremlins?
“The Bigfoot couple!” she reminded me. “Kim is a hoot and Hugh was able to communicate with the little people inside my TV through his music.”
“You mean the scary noise that comes out of him while other people are talking?” I laughed.
“Rena,” she said, “that’s not nice. He is a bit unusual, but very creative.”
Now there’s a nice word for certifiably crazy. I filed that one away for future defense.
“Hugh does séances, and we’re thinking about calling your Uncle Fucker back so I can give the bastard a piece of my mind.” Her eyes lit with excitement at the thought. “Would you like to be there?”
I was mute. No words came to me that would be acceptable in polite company, so I shrugged noncommittally and tried to smile.
“Great, I’ll let you know when. Where’s Jack?” she asked, looking around for his wonderful butter melting butt.
“He died,” I said before I could stop myself.
“Really?” Aunt Phyllis gasped, her eyes filling with tears.
“No, but he’s gay.”
“Oh my God.” She grabbed me and hugged me so hard I felt nauseous. “I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t have pegged that in a million years and my gaydar is outstanding.”
“Your gay what?”
“My gaydar, dear. It’s a radar for gay people,” she explained very seriously.
“I see.” I nodded, hoping against hope I wouldn’t turn out like my beloved aunt. “I’m going to go find Mom and Dad. Do me a favor and keep the gay thing to yourself right now, okay?”
“Should I tell people that he died?” she asked.
I wandered through the crowd, greeting my parents’ friends and escaping quickly when the talk turned to the new boyfriend they’d heard so much about. By the time I got to my parents, I was ready to cry.
“Hi sweetie,” Mom said, hugging me close. “You look beautiful as usual.” She took a good look at me and pulled me into the corner. “What’s wrong?”
“Really?” she said, clearly shocked.
“Um, no. Actually he died.”
“Rena, that’s awful. Is that true?” She gave me the look.
I paused, racking my brain to come up with a more truthful sounding lie. “No, it’s not true. He broke up with me because he thinks I’m nuts.”
“That comes from your mother’s side of the family,” Dad said, having heard the last part of the conversation.
“Dad—” I rolled my eyes—“Aunt Phyllis is your sister.”
“Is she really? I suppose I blocked that one out,” he chuckled, giving me a hug. “That guy is an ass if he doesn’t appreciate you for who you are. You are perfect and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“What am I, chopped liver?” My mom horned in on the hug I was giving my dad. I might be in a yucky place right now, but it could be worse . . . although I wasn’t really sure how. But I did have good friends, amazing parents, a kooky aunt whom I adored, and a . . .
“Hi Rena,” my sister interrupted. “I heard Jack is gay and that he died.” Oh, right. I also had a bitchy ass-wad of a sister.
“Girls,” Mom warned, “you will be pleasant to each other this evening.”
“I didn’t even say anything to her. She just walked her hulking ass over here and started in on me,” I whined.
“You take that back,” Jenny spat. “Dirk says my ass is like J.Lo’s.”
“Dirk’s on crack,” I muttered.
“Enough.” Dad cut off Jenny’s comeback before it passed her lips. “If you can’t be civil, then separate. Tonight is for your mom and me. I expect you to remember that.”
“I’m sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mom . . . sorry, Jenny.” The last sorry was a little like chewing glass, but Dad was right. We were behaving like children.
“Sorry, too,” Jenny said. I noted that she didn’t actually apologize to me, but her mea culpa seemed to satisfy the folks.
“All right.” Mom smiled, hugging us both. “We need to mingle with our guests. You two behave.”
They wandered back into the crowd, leaving me and Jenny in the corner. I fidgeted uncomfortably and wondered what in the hell had happened to us. When we were little, we adored each other. I guess we weren’t so little anymore. Well, she wasn’t.
“Are you going to behave?” I asked her.
“No. Are you?”
“Nope.” I grinned. “Maybe we should take this elsewhere so we don’t upset Mom and Dad.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she agreed. “After you.” She stepped back and let me lead the way. That alone made me a little nervous. Clearly she had something hateful planned to do or to say. I quickly thought through all the big butt references I’d come up with earlier and tried to remember every mortifying thing she’d done in high school. I didn’t know if it would be enough. Shit.
It was fucking freezing outside. The cold didn’t seem to faze Jenny. She did have a lot of extra padding from the pregnancy. And then there was her butt . . .
“What do you want?” I asked warily.
“I don’t know.” She smiled innocently. “I just thought it might be fun to talk about the demise of your latest relationship.”
“That seems like a lovely topic, but I’d rather measure your ass. I’m sure they have a tape measure or two inside.” I moved away from her to go back in.
“What happened? Did he realize pretty packages on the outside are often not so pretty on the inside?” she asked nastily.
“Yep.” I nodded. “I showed him my spleen and he ran for the hills.”
“No, really Rena, did he figure out how crazy you are? Did he decide to cut ties and run before you ruined his life? I mean, come on, spill.”
I was speechless. I had no comeback.
“Maybe he heard how quickly you go through men and didn’t want to be another notch in your belt. Was that it?” she inquired blandly.
My entire body was shaking and it wasn’t from the cold. What had we done to each other to end up like this? I was still unable to speak. I didn’t trust myself not to cry. I was not going to let her see me cry.
“I’ll bet it was the crazy thing. Did he find out about the Sunshine Weather Girl mishap? I would think a cop might have a hard time dating someone with a rap sheet,” she laughed. “You never told me how you met. How did you meet?”
“Stop, Jenny,” I said quietly.
“Is that your best comeback?” She shook her head in pity. “I’m sure you can do better than that.”
Everything from the past two weeks hurled through my mind, making me dizzy. She was small potatoes compared to the other problems I had. Did she need to win that badly? Maybe she did . . .
“Rena, Rena, Rena, you finally find a good one and you screw that up just like you screwed up all the others,” she goaded.
“Fine, Jenny,” I yelled. “You win. I lose. Again. You want to know why he dumped me? He kicked me to the curb because he thinks I’m crazy. That should help you sleep better at night.” My voice broke miserably, but I didn’t care anymore. “And you’ll love how we met. It’s absolutely darling. We met when he arrested me for breaking my restraining order.” Jenny looked really weird. Everything looked weird. Then I realized the tears I was not going to cry were making my surroundings blurry. Shit. “Do you want to know what the best part is?” I shouted as hot tears rolled down my cheeks, “I’m in love with him and he doesn’t want me.” I sank to the cold ground and deep sobs wracked my body. “He doesn’t want me,” I whispered to no one in particular.
“Oh my God,” Jenny said, squatting on the ground next to me and trying to put her arms around me. “Oh God, Rena, I’m so sorry.”
“Go away. Leave me alone,” I said, rigidly holding my tears in check. “You should be able to enjoy the party now.”
“Fuck, Rena, I feel sick to my stomach. I’m just so . . . so sorry.” She tried to hold me again and I moved away.
“Jenny, I’m tired. I’m tired of you and me and life. You got what you wanted, so just please, leave me alone.” I pressed my head against my knees and closed my eyes.
She sat quietly next to me. The silence was nice. I couldn’t take any more. My breaking point had finally come.
“I’ve always been jealous of you,” she said softly.
I snorted in disbelief. “Jealous? What do you have to be jealous of? You’re a doctor with a husband and a baby and a house.” I stared at her as if she had two heads.
She pulled her knees to her chest, well, as much as she could being pregnant and all, and stared off at the stars. “You were always so funny. You had tons of friends and boyfriends . . . When people would find out I was your little sister, they couldn’t believe it.” She sighed and shook her head. “I wasn’t pretty and silly and creative like you. I didn’t have your charm or your balls.”
I stared in shock. Maybe Aunt Phyllis had slipped me a hallucinogenic. This was not my sister.
“Jenny, stop. It’s okay. You don’t have to say all that stuff to make me feel better. I’ll be fine. Eventually.”
“I mean it. Even your screwups are funny and wild. I’m not brave or strong like you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my life. I’m a good doctor and I love Dirk and I’m going to have a baby, but there’s still a part of me that wishes I was you.” She put her hand out. I hesitated, and then tentatively took it. “I guess I was just jealous again. There you were with this gorgeous guy . . . you looked like a supermodel couple, for God’s sake,” she laughed. “I didn’t want him, but I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t want you to have him either.”
“Well, he’s gone.” I smiled weakly. “And just for the record, I always wanted to be more like you. Smart and organized and sane,” I giggled.
“You don’t want my butt,” she teased.
“Actually, Dirk is right. You do have a J.Lo butt. It pops, it’s sexy.” I grinned and squeezed her hand.
“Will you put that in writing?” she asked.
“Only if you put all the shit you said tonight in writing.” I narrowed my eyes at her.
“No fucking way,” she laughed.
“Ditto,” I giggled. “You know, Jenny, I’ve missed you for a long time.”
“Me, too.” She smiled and put her head on my shoulder. It felt good. “Rena?”
“Jack really fucked up. That ass-monkey just lost the best thing that could ever happen to him,” she whispered. “If you ever decide to take his sorry ass back, I’ll be happy for you, but . . .”
“But what?” I asked.
“But I think I’ll always have to call him ass-monkey for the rest of his life.”
I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. Jenny joined me. If anyone saw us they’d think we were wasted. I rolled around on the ground with my pregnant sister in the freezing cold and laughed like a hyena. I hadn’t felt so happy in a long time. Who knew it would take my life blowing up to get my sister back?