The perfect match, p.14
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       The Perfect Match, p.14
 

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
Page 14

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Um, hi. Hi, Droog. Nice to meet you. ”

  Don’t judge on first impressions had been the advice from Faith and Colleen. Droog was lucky, in other words.

  They were in the middle of the student center at Wickham College, where Droog headed up the Science and Engineering department. The Droog in front of her bore little resemblance to the Droog in the eCommitment photo (she should really stop thinking his name, which was not improving with repetition). No, his photo had apparently involved Glamour Shots, a spray tan and many dedicated hours with Photoshop. The actual live Droog (there it was again) looked ten years older and was considerably whiter. Also, he carried a purse. Not a cool, battered leather satchel, but a purse that Honor had been eyeing last week at Macy’s.

  “Come. Vee vill go in my car. I heff Dodge Omni. It is old, but very good gas mileage. ”

  “You know, I think I’ll drive myself,” she said, wiping sweat from her forehead. “It’s, uh. . . it’ll be easier for me to get home. ”

  “As you vish. ”

  It was possible, Honor thought as she followed him outside, that Droog Dragul’s accent would grow on her. After all, hadn’t she loved the Count on Sesame Street? Perhaps his narrow face would be more attractive in a softer light. And she herself was no supermodel.

  She wondered if he could see himself in a mirror. If he sparkled. Stop judging, she told herself. He couldn’t help being Transylvanian or Romanian or Hungarian or whatever it was.

  She smiled firmly (though hopefully not like a wolverine) as he led the way to the parking lot. If nothing else, this date would be practice. It had been several years since she’d been on a first date. Years.

  The sound of feminine laughter, and lots of it, made her turn her head. A gaggle of girls clustered around a man. He turned her way.

  Oh, fungus. It was Tom Barlow.

  Without thinking, she ducked, pretending she dropped her keys. Hey, why not actually drop them for authenticity purposes? She did. Kicked them under the car a little so she could have more time. Hopefully, Tom and the gaggle would move on.

  “Heff you lost something?” Droog asked, bending to help. He was very tall.

  “Um, no, no. I just dropped my keys. ” Right. So she should pick them up and not just stand here, hunched over like Quasimodo. She squatted down and reached under the car, feeling only gritty pavement. Took a peek. Great. She’d effectively kicked them out of reach.

  “I vould help you, but dee cartilage in my knees has torn and shredded, and I can no longer kneel. Eh heh heh heh. ”

  One! One beeg mistake! Two! Two bad knees!

  “Hallo, Droog. Hallo, woman on the pavement. ”

  She sighed. Busted.

  “Tom, Tom, how are you, my friend?” Droog asked. “I vould like you to meet my date, Mees Honor Holland. ”

  She looked up. Tom raised an eyebrow, a small smile playing around that mouth. “Oh,” she said flatly. “Hi. ”

  “Lovely to see you again,” he said.

  “Heff you met before?” Droog’s eyebrows rose way, way up on his giant forehead.

  Tom just kept looking down at her. “We both live in Manningsport,” he said after a beat, and his accent was so much more appealing than the Count’s. “Met at the pub one night, had a bit of a chat. Small town and all. Have you dropped something, Honor?”

  “Um, my car keys,” she said.

  He knelt down next to her, and she caught a whiff of his soap. He hadn’t shaved recently, and his jaw was bristly with stubble. Or maybe it wasn’t bristly. Maybe it was soft. Those lips would be soft, that was for sure.

  Give us five minutes and we can be ready, the eggs said.

  Tom leaned over, and something surged inside her. For one nanosecond, she thought he was going to kiss her, and yes! That would fine! Her eyes fluttered; the left one got stuck, thanks to the clumpy mascara. But no. Of course he wasn’t going to kiss her here on the pavement (or ever). He was reaching for her keys.

  Which put his head very close to her, um, special places. Her uterus wobbled, and she pictured the eggs taking up a battering ram.

  “Everything all right with your eye?” Tom asked with a knowing grin.

  “Everything’s fine. ”

  She could probably hate this guy, if they spent much more time together. With superhuman eyelid effort, Honor managed to unstick her lashes as Tom groped under the car, then straightened up and handed her the keys. “There you are,” he said, his eyes filled with laughter. Gray eyes.

  Kind of a gorgeous color, really. The lake in November, dark and deep.

  “So you’re on a date with Droog, are you?” he asked. “Great guy. ”

  “Yes,” she said briskly. She’d almost forgotten about the Count. “Droog, sorry about that. Let’s get going, shall we?”

  “Have fun,” Tom said.

  “Tom, I veel see you tomorrow,” Droog said, opening the door of his rusting, maroon-colored Dodge Omni.

  “Thank you,” she said to Tom. He smiled over his shoulder as he headed for his car, and damn. That was a Mack truck of a smile. And by the way, he was not built like Ye Typical Math Teacher, no sir. Broad shoulders. Rather perfect ass.

  Then he glanced back again, and Honor was abruptly aware that she was still staring after him. He cocked his eyebrow as if knowing she was ogling him. He was probably used to it, she thought as a young (and beautiful) woman cantered to his side. Why didn’t he marry that one, huh? Why meet Honor if women were throwing themselves at him?

  The man was not particularly likable. Droog, on the other hand, thought she was luffly. It didn’t make sense to let Down Under start getting all tingly and warm when the man causing those feelings had been such a boor.

  * * *

  “DO YOU LIKE bowling?” Droog asked a half hour later as they sat in the little restaurant. “I luff eet. Dee crash of dee pins, dee joy on the dee faces of dee cheeldren. ” He smiled. “Perhaps we may try it sometime. ”

  There would be no bowling.

  Honor had definitely ruled out marriage and children with Droog Dragul. In addition to the faint fear that he was going to throw his head back and start howling, or start counting things. (One. . . one pointy knife! Two! Two major blood vessels in dee neck!) Droog had wiped down everything at their table with antibacterial wipes he produced from his purse, including their chairs and the floor around them. “Now I heff created clean space,” he said, smiling.

  Dexter the serial killer leaped to mind.

  Then Droog ordered water and took a sandwich from his purse. Baloney on white bread.

  It was a long eighty-three minutes.

  To his credit, when he asked her for a second date, Droog took her rejection well. “Ah, yes, I understand,” he said. “Vee don’t have the cleek. ”

  “The cleek?” she asked.

  He snapped his fingers. “The cleek. ”

  “Oh. Right. The click. ” Honor forced a smile. “But it was very nice meeting you, Droog. ”

  “And you, as vell, Honor. Good night. ”

  So. No potential husband. Maybe she’d call Jeremy and ask about sperm banks.

  It’s just that she wanted a husband. A nice man would be enough. He didn’t have to be Brogan—all that and turquoise eyes, too—he just had to be. . . decent. And normal. Not someone who brought his own food to a restaurant.

  Too bad Tom Barlow had been such a twit.

 

 

  CHAPTER SIX

  “OH, TOM. IT’S you. Hello. Take off your shoes, don’t forget. ”

  He obeyed. “Janice. How are you?”

  “Fine, fine. Come on in. ” She held the door open, and Tom entered, ignoring the sinking feeling he always had when he was in the home of Charlie’s grandparents. The living room was a pinkish color, making him feel as if he were sitting inside a salmon. His feet sank into the plush pink
carpet as dozens of sightless eyes stared at him. Creepy, those dolls. Janice collected them—hundreds of them, all the same size, dressed in everything from a frilly bikini to a wedding dress, sat in specially made glass cupboards like a tiny, evil army, ready to break out of their bondage and attack anything male.

  Poor Charlie, having to live with all these dolls. Tom could only imagine what the boy would say to his friends. Not that he had friends who came over. Or any friends, for all Tom could tell.

  “And where’s Walter today?” Tom asked, rubbing the back of his neck. “Is he about?”

  “No, he’s down at the barber shop. Hiding, and I can’t blame him. ” Janice eyed his crotch, as was her habit. Uncomfortable, to say the least. He was always a bit afraid to turn his back on her. “You’re good to come, Tom,” she said. “You don’t have to do this, you know. You’re not obligated. ”

  “No, no, I love spending time with him. ” Janice raised her eyes from his groin long enough to give him a dubious look. Right, so that might be pushing it a bit. “And he can always visit me any time, stay over. ”

  “You’re a saint,” she said. “Sit. ”

  Tom obeyed, the plastic furniture cover squeaking as he sat.

  “He’s so sullen. He barely speaks to us, and why, I have no idea, after all we’ve done for him. ”

  “Yes, you’ve been wonderful,” Tom lied.

  She gave a martyred smile. “It’s what Jesus would do. Well, you must want to be on your way. Charlie!” Tom jumped at the abrupt shift in volume. “Tom’s here!”

  There was no answer.

  “I’ll get him. ” Janice sighed. “He’s locked in that room of his and never answers. ” With that, she tromped up the stairs, leaving Tom alone with the doll army.

  It was impossible not to look at them. Today, the doll dressed in the flamenco outfit seemed especially hostile. “Piss off,” Tom whispered. No wonder Charlie was in a bad mood all the time.

  And speaking of, here was the boy himself. “Hallo, mate!” Tom said, standing up. “How are you?”

  It was almost a shock to the eyes, the black of Charlie—clothing, hair, nails and mood. At some point last year during what seemed to be a particularly horrifying puberty, Charlie had turned punk, or Goth, or whatever they were calling it these days. Baggy black clothes, black eyeliner, black fingernail polish. There were a few of that type at Wickham, shuffling around campus, their chains rattling, but they seemed like happy enough kids.

  Charlie, on the other hand. . .

  He didn’t look at Tom, just walked past, out the front door, as cheery as if he were on his way to get a lethal injection.

  “Right,” Tom said to Janice. “I’ll bring him back around seven, then?”

  “If you can stand him for that long,” she said, staring at his junk.

  “You, um, enjoy your time. ”

  He walked out to the car, where Charlie was already seated, earbuds in place, starting ahead with the long-suffering expression only a fourteen-year-old boy could manage—Look at me, surrounded by these wankers, counting the minutes till I can get away.

  “How’ve you been?” Tom asked, getting in and starting the car. No answer from his companion, though Tom could hear the tinny sound of. . . well, calling it music wasn’t really fair. “School going all right?” No answer. “Buckle up, mate, be a good lad. ” And no answer still. “Charlie, come on. ”

  Charlie said nothing, just buckled up, rolling his eyes as he did so.

  “So I thought I’d take you into town, do something fun, then back to my place for dinner—how’s that sound?”

  No answer.

  And he had the kid for four more hours.

  There seemed to be a new piercing through the cartilage of Charlie’s left ear. Looked infected from here, the skin angry and red from the safety pin stuck through it. “Make sure you clean that properly,” Tom couldn’t stop himself from saying.
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