Authors: Kristen Ashley
Al this meant Lee was very, very alone.
“I’m sorry?” Indy asked, turning to Lee.
“Do what you want. I don’t care. I’l be responsible for the honeymoon,” Lee told her.
“That’s it? You
to have a tangerine and chocolate wedding?” Indy asked.
“I don’t even know what that means,” Lee returned and when Indy opened her mouth to speak, Lee went on, his eyes crinkled at the corners. “And, gorgeous, I don’t want to know.”
“I don’t believe this,” Indy hissed under her breath.
“Son, let me tel you something. Even if you don’t care, pretend you do. Honestly, it’s the best way to go,” Dad, the voice of experience, decided to wade in. “She talks about toss pil ows. You don’t care about toss pil ows. You don’t even know what toss pil ows are.
that toss pil ows are your highest priority in life.”
Eddie chuckled under his breath. Carl did it straight out.
Lee smiled at Dad. Hank was stil memorizing the banner but he was now biting his lower lip.
Mom turned to Dad, eyes narrowed and said, “Excuse me?”
“Trish, just last week, we had a forty-five minute discussion about the curtains in the living room,” Dad said.
“You think I give a shit about curtains? I care that there’s beer in the fridge and the TV works.
don’t care about curtains. I didn’t hear a word you said about the curtains.”
“You agreed to the curtains with the little trumpets on them! You said you loved the idea! I already ordered them. I thought it was al decided,” Mom cried.
Dad looked back at Lee and nodded sagely.
Mom’s face got red, “Are you saying you don’t like the curtains with the trumpets?”
“I’m sayin’ I don’t care. Get whatever you want. I don’t even
the curtains,” Dad replied.
“Guys –” I tried to run interference.
“I just do not believe this,” Mom groused. “I knew I should have gone with the curtains with the little horses and riders on them. The trumpet curtains are going to look sil y. What are the neighbors going to think?”
“Mrs. Logan, for what it’s worth, I think the neighbors are going to like the trumpet ones. The little horse and riders…” Stevie offered, wincing a bit and shaking his head.
“You sure?” Mom asked.
“I’m sure,” Stevie assured her.
“Wel then, thank you,” Mom smiled at Stevie and took a sip of her champagne.
I turned into Hank’s body, lifted on tiptoe and whispered in his ear. “You can come back into the room, crisis averted.”
He looked down at me, eyes smiling.
Then he asked, “How much do you care about curtains?”
“Wel …” I drew it out, because I cared about curtains like, a lot. They set the tone for the whole room.
“Okay, let me rephrase that. How much do you care that I don’t care about curtains?”
I grinned at him.
His smile hit his mouth. “We’re set then.”
“Al my honey bunches of oats!” Daisy yel ed behind my back.
I turned to see Daisy approaching, dragging Marcus with her. I blinked hard, so dazzling was her ensemble. She was head-to-toe rhinestones, sequins and beads. Her hair was held up in an enormous up-do, fashioned with tons of hair jewelry. She had sequins glued around her right eye, she was wearing a fortune in diamonds at her ears and throat, and her v-necked, ice blue, long-sleeved gown was entirely beaded, every inch of it. It had to weigh a ton.
More hugs, air-kisses and handshakes were exchanged as Daisy and Marcus joined our group. It was only slightly uncomfortable when Eddie and Marcus shook hands and only slightly freaky when Marcus looked intensely in my eyes, communicating something I didn’t real y get, before he kissed my cheek.
After we al settled into our huge huddle, Daisy leaned forward, waving us in.
Al the women, Tod and Stevie leaned in. Al the men started talking with Marcus.
“Do something!” Daisy hissed.
“About what?” Jet asked.
“About this party. It’s a dud. Nothing’s happening.
People are just standin’ around and talkin’. It’s the most borin’ party I’ve ever been to in my life. One of you has to do something,” Daisy turned to Al y, “You’re good at causing a stir. Start a fight. Do you have your stun gun?” Again, I blinked at Daisy and this time, not because I was dazzled.
“You’re joking, right?” Al y asked.
“No, I’m not jokin’. What are they gonna say in the society pages? Daisy doesn’t do boring. Daisy is not a dud. Daisy is al about excitement, comprende?”
“Daisy, I think it’s a nice party,” I offered.
Daisy turned to me, her eyes sharp as knives, “Nice?
I backed up a step.
“Jumpin’ Jehosafats. This is fuckin’
” We, and al the other guests, heard shouted from across the room.
We al turned to see Jason, wearing a rented tux and Annette, wearing a pretty, sea green, scoop-necked dress with cap sleeves (obviously Stevie and/or Tod had intervened in the Scarlet O’Hara fiasco) standing across the room.
“Did you like, move this place stone-for-stone from England or something?” Annette asked Daisy when she arrived at our huddle.
More hugs, handshakes and air-kisses were exchanged and a waiter brought champagne.
“No, Marcus built it for me, Sugar. You look sweet,” Daisy replied.
Annette smiled at her and then turned to the girlie group at large. “Get this!” Annette announced. “Smithie hired me to dance. He said I could dance to Bob Marley. He doesn’t care, just as long as the customers get it.” I looked at Jason. He caught my glance and shook his head.
“Lottie and me are gonna work on my routines. I’l do Head during the day and be a stripper at night. How fuckin’
phat is that?”
“She’s kidding, right?” Hank murmured in my ear. I hadn’t noticed he’d turned from the boy conversation to the girl one.
I ignored him, focused on helping Jason.
“Annette, maybe you should think about that,” I suggested.
“Sweetie, Smithie loves you,” Annette told me, shocking me with the news. “He said, if I could get you to dance with me, he’d give me a bonus.”
“That’s not gonna happen,” Hank official y entered our conversation.
“Dude,” Annette said. “She’d be
up there. I bet she’d give Lottie a run for her money.”
“It’s not gonna happen,” Hank repeated, turning ful y to Annette.
Annette ignored, or was oblivious to, Hank’s warning posture.
“Dude. Seriously. Do you know how much Lottie gets paid?” she asked Hank.
“Don’t see why she shouldn’t strip, she’s half naked right now,” Dad put in.
“Herb,” Mom said.
“I’m not half naked,” I snapped at Dad.
“Your ass is hangin’ out,” Dad returned.
“Is it?” Annette asked, twisting to look at my back. “Let me see.”
“My ass is not hanging out,” I told Annette.
“Oh,” Annette muttered, sounding disappointed.
We’d become the focus of attention of several partygoers who were standing close to our group.
“Maybe we should keep it down,” I suggested.
“Oowee, free champagne!” we heard belted from across the room.
We al turned to see Shirleen standing there, Afro huge with glitter sprayed in it. She looked gorgeous in a deep peach, square-necked gown: an orange, latticework, shimmering necklace adorning her throat from cleavage to chin.
She turned and nabbed a glass of champagne off the tray of a waiter gliding by her.
“Wel , look at al of you,” Shirleen announced when she arrived at our group. “Shee-it. It’s like someone smacked you al with the beautiful stick. Ordinary people need not apply. God damn!”
“I want that necklace,” I blurted. “It’s gorgeous. But I want it in red. Where did you get it?”
Shirleen put her hand to her throat; her long fingernails were painted a pearlescent coral. “Leon bought it for me about two days before they shot his sorry ass. So, not only did I get freedom from that stupid motherfucker, I got me a nice necklace as a keepsake. You can borrow it if you want.”
I stared at her.
Mom stared at her.
Dad stared at her.
“Leon’s my dead husband,” Shirleen explained. “He’s better off dead. He was a mean sonovabitch. Two days after they put him in the ground I redecorated the entire house then went on a cruise. Do you know how much food they serve on those cruises? Food everywhere, al the time.
I even got me a piece of my own personal Isaac, you know, from
The Love Boat
? He was a cruise ship bartender and Jamaican. Don’t remember his name but he was nice to Shirleen,
nice. I gave him a tip he’l never forget,” then she laughed so hard, her entire body shook with it.
Mom, Dad and I just kept staring at her. Then, Mom shuffled up close to Hank and I. “Are you sure you want to move to Denver?” she whispered.
I looked at Hank.
He ran the tips of his fingers lightly along the edge of my He ran the tips of his fingers lightly along the edge of my dress at the smal of my back.
A shiver went along my skin.
I nodded to Mom. “I’m sure.”
She sighed. I noticed hers wasn’t as happy as mine had been.
“Maybe we should mingle,” Jet suggested, noticing that we had become the center of attention for the entire room.
“That’s a good idea,” Indy agreed.
“Where’s this secret VIP buffet, that’s what I wanna know. I’m starved,” Dad asked loudly, causing some of the other guests’ subtle stares to become a lot less subtle.
“Herb, keep your voice down,” Mom whispered, also loudly.
“I’l show you, Mr. Logan,” Daisy offered, not in the least upset that her secret buffet was outed by my Dad. “Right this way.”
Daisy, Mom and Dad peeled off and Marcus moved close to Hank and I while everyone wandered away. “We need to talk,” Marcus said to Hank.
It was clear by the look on his face and the tensing of Hank’s body that Marcus wasn’t proposing idle, party chitchat.
Hank nodded once, then his hand drifted up my back to between my shoulder blades and he curled me to him, front-to-front. I tilted my head back and his face was as serious as Marcus’s.
“I’l be a minute,” he said.
“Keep Lee, Eddie or Carl in sight. Got me?”
“Keep Lee, Eddie or Carl in sight. Got me?” I nodded again.
His hand went away from my back and he ran a finger down my jaw, then he and Marcus were gone.
“I see you sorted some of your man troubles,” Shirleen noted. She was standing beside me but watching Marcus and Hank move through the big room.
I noticed Lee, Eddie and Carl watching Hank too. After Hank disappeared from sight, Lee’s eyes cut to me, he said something to Indy and they moved away from the couple they were talking to and closer to me.
Indy caught my eye and smiled reassuringly.
I smiled back.
Then I realized something.
And it hit me so hard it had a total body impact.
“I think I’m in love with him,” I said quietly to Shirleen.
“What, child? I couldn’t hear you,” Shirleen replied.
“I barely know him but I think I’m in love with Hank,” I repeated.
She turned ful y to me and her eyes narrowed, mainly because I was beginning to freak out and I was certain it was showing.
“Calm down, girl. This is good. You should be happy.
Hank Nightingale is a good man and he’l treat you right. I think you and I both know ain’t a lot of men in the world like that. You got a shot at one, you hold on tight and you better fuckin’ wel rejoice,” Shirleen advised, her voice serious to the point of being sharp.
“I think I’m in love with al of them,” I said, ignoring her words and beginning to panic.
words and beginning to panic.
“Al of who?” Shirleen asked.
” I threw my arm out. “Indy, Lee, Al y, Daisy, Eddie, Jet, Tod, Stevie… al of them,” I answered.
“Far as I can tel , there’s a lot to love,” her eyes didn’t leave me. “Why you lookin’ like you been sentenced to life in prison?”
“Bil y’s out there, he’s acting crazy. Or, I should say, crazier. There’s no tel ing what he’l do. They might get hurt,” I replied.
I’d felt it days before, when Daisy got shot at when she was with me. But now, it had intensified. It was something different, something more immediate, visceral. Something not to be borne.
“They know ‘bout Bil y?” Shirleen asked, cutting into my thoughts.
“Al of ‘em?” she went on.
I nodded again.
“Then they know what they’re gettin’ into,” Shirleen declared decisively. “Trust Shirleen, child. Lotta folk would stand clear from a girl like you, leave you to go it alone, best as you could. And, I’m tel in’ it to you straight, if this Bil y is as much of a crazy motherfucker as he sounds and even as strong as you are, I’m guessin’ the best you could do would fail. He’d end up hurtin’ you or turnin’ you and neither of those things are good.” I felt my blood turn to ice and I stared at Shirleen. She kept talking. “These folk don’t stand clear. Says a lot. Don’t let it mess with your head.
From what I hear of your people, you’l eventual y have your chance to settle the score.”
I couldn’t say I liked the sound of that.
Shirleen’s eyes had been clear and focused, but something drifted across them and her gaze left me. “I’m not ashamed to tel you, Shirleen has always had a soft spot for that boy,” Shirleen murmured, almost as if I wasn’t there.