The perfect match, p.24
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       The Perfect Match, p.24

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 24

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Tom. Tom Barlow. The mechanical engineer, remember?” Best to feed Dad information as if he already knew it.

  Dad frowned. “Huh. I guess I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, what about him? You want to have him up for dinner?”

  “Oh, sure. But, uh, the bigger news is, um, we’re moving in together. ”

  For a second, Honor thought her father might clutch his chest and drop stone-cold dead. Silence filled the room, thick and ominous. The mantel clock ticked loudly.

  “No, you’re not,” Dad said loudly. “I don’t even know this Tom person. Who’s Tom? You’re not moving in with a stranger I’ve never even met. Why on earth would you do that? Is this about Mrs. Johnson and me?”

  “Shouldn’t you be allowed to call her by her first name, Dad?” Jack asked around a mouthful of cake. “Since you’re sleeping with her?”

  “Jackie! Don’t you dare discuss this!” Mrs. Johnson banged a pot down in the kitchen, then stomped out to the living room. “This is your fault, John Holland,” she declared. “You and this silly marriage idea. Honor, you’re not going anywhere. John, I refuse to come between you and your children. ”

  “Now look what you’ve done, sis,” Jack said. “Can I have another piece of cake, Mrs. J. ?”

  “Jack, shut up. And Mrs. J. , please,” Honor said. “You are so going to marry Dad. Just calm down. I’m thirty-five years old. ”

  “That is getting up there,” Jack murmured.

  Honor shot him a murderous glance. “I can move in with someone if I want to, and I do. I’d like to live somewhere other than the house where I was born. ”

  “You were born in the hospital,” Dad said sharply.

  “You can’t move in with some stranger,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I don’t condone living in sin. ”

  “Well, then, you should stop shtupping Dad, shouldn’t you?”

  Dad looked like he was indeed considering that heart attack, and Mrs. Johnson gave her a regal, icy look.

  “Sorry, Mrs. J. ,” she said. “But I am going to move in with Tom. He has a very cute place in town, and I want to do it. It’s not because of you two. It’s because of. . . him. ” She felt her face get hot. “He’s really great. ”

  “No, he’s not!” Dad yelped. “He’s not great. If he’s so great, how come I’ve never met him? How long has this been going on?”

  “Not long, John Holland, not long,” Mrs. Johnson intoned. “But you weren’t paying attention, were you? No, you were chasing after some woman—”

  “Aren’t you the woman in question, Mrs. J. ?” Jack asked.

  “—and your daughter is going to live with a stranger who could be a serial killer. ”

  “And then there’s that,” Jack said.

  “He’s a math teacher. I mean, mechanical engineering. He’s a professor at Wickham. And he’s very nice. British, too. ”

  “What does that have to do with anything?” Dad asked. “Don’t they make serial killers in England? Haven’t you ever heard of Jack the Ripper?” He looked at his only son for solidarity. “Tell her, Jack. This is ridiculous. You can date him, Honor, but moving in? It’s rash. ”

  As her father, Mrs. J. and Jack all weighed in, Honor couldn’t help noting how vastly different the standards were for the four grown Holland children. Faith was never questioned, as she was the delicate flower of the bunch, her occasional seizure giving her an opt-out clause for everything. Honor knew it wasn’t by choice, but she couldn’t help thinking Faith was pretty damn clever, being born with epilepsy. Prudence had sown her wild oats when the rest of them were still little, and those oats had largely gone unnoticed as Mom and Dad had diapers to change and toddlers to chase. Plus, Pru had married Carl at age twenty-three, spawned two lovely kids and now served more as entertainment than a cause for concern. Jack was the son and heir and little prince, and therefore beyond reproach.

  But it always seemed to Honor that a higher standard had been applied to her. She was the one who’d brought no surprises, who’d done exactly what was expected, who never caused her parents a moment’s worry. Good old Honor. The boring one.

  Time for that to change. And oddly enough, it felt good.

  “Okay, you guys, that’s enough,” she said. “I’m moving in with Tom. Sorry you don’t approve, but I’m not a kid anymore. ”

  “You live under my roof, don’t you? My roof, my rules. ”

  “I just told you, I’m moving out. ”

  “Why would a guy want to move in with you, Honor? You’re so mean. ” Jack grinned.

  “Jackie, for shame!” Mrs. J. said in a rare reproach.

  “She’s not mean,” Dad said. “She’s my angel. ”

  Honor smiled sweetly at her brother. “An angel,” she murmured, scratching her cheek with her middle finger.

  “An angel who should know better,” Dad added.

  Jack grinned. “Let her go, Dad,” he said. “If she doesn’t jump on this, she’ll just end up here, changing your diapers and owning more and more cats. ”

  “I’m more of a dog person. ”

  “Really? I thought you had a cat. ”

  “Spike is a dog. ”

  “You sure?”

  “Bite me. Anyway, I would love for everyone to meet Tom, so he’s coming here, and so are a few other people. Wednesday night, okay? Okay. Mrs. Johnson? Would you like me to have this catered, or would you—”

  “How dare you, Honor! Has my cooking become so abhorrent to you that—”

  “Oh, heck, look at the time. I have things to do. Talk among yourselves. ”

  * * *

  THREE DAYS LATER, Honor opened the door and smiled at the boy in front of her.

  Eesh.

  “Hi!” she said. “You must be Charlie. It’s really nice to meet you. I’m Honor. ”

  He lifted his black-lined eyes to hers as if each eyeball weighed three hundred pounds, then shuffled past.

  “You’re the woman, then?” said an older lady.

  “Uh, yes! Hi! I’m Honor Holland. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Kellogg. ”

  “Mmm. ”

  Mr. Kellogg came in next. “Hello,” he said. “Do I smell mold? I’m allergic to mold. And cheese. I hope we’re not having any cheese tonight. I’m lactose intolerant. But I’ll have a Scotch. Thanks, dear. ”

  My kingdom for a Xanax, Honor thought.

  In the interest of killing all family members with one stone (the literal idea of which held greater and greater appeal), Honor had decided that the Kelloggs and the Hollands should meet at once. And the next time such a brainchild occurred to her, she hoped someone would hit her with a crowbar, because it couldn’t be any less uncomfortable than this.

  “I love him,” Faith said. “I mean, wow. He’s really cute!” Her sister flashed a huge smile. “Where did you find him?”

  “Are we talking about how hot your guy is?” Prudence said, coming over to join them. “Love the accent. I missed about thirty percent of what he was saying, but I was too busy looking at his neck. I would lick that if I was single. Hey, Carl, get me some more wine, okay, pal?”

  “Darling, your family utterly terrifies me. ” Tom came up behind her and put his arms around her. “Give us a kiss, what do you say? Oh, hallo, girls, didn’t see you there. ” Honor watched her sisters visibly sag with swooniness.

  She herself, not so much. First of all, she wasn’t sure how much Tom had had to drink. He was being very jolly, and it was making her nervous. And secondly, he was playing the part of doting boyfriend/fiancé a little too forcefully. Which was nice. Except it was uncomfortable, since it was fake. But it was also nice. Which meant she was pathetic, to be lapping up this attention, when she knew quite well that Tom was in this for fraud purposes only. Which didn’t make the feeling of his arms any less incredible. No. He wasn’t built like a math teacher at all. Or a mechanical engineer.

 
“I bet you’re great in bed,” Prudence said.

  “I’ve heard that,” Tom said. “Though Honor is more of the expert on my abilities, aren’t you, darling?”

  “I hear Mrs. Johnson calling me,” she said, extracting herself from Tom’s brawny arms.

  An eternity later, they were crammed around the dining room table. Mrs. Kellogg couldn’t seem to stop eyeing Tom and licking her lips, which made Honor’s skin crawl, given that a) Tom had been engaged to Mrs. Kellogg’s daughter, b) he was now about to be engaged to Honor and c) Mrs. Kellogg was a good thirty years older than Tom. There were cougars, and then there was disgusting.

  Mr. Kellogg, meanwhile, sniffed each piece of food before putting it in his mouth. Abby was secretly (or not) texting; Charlie was staring at her, then at his plate. Her siblings, Ned, Goggy and Pops, Dad and Mrs. Johnson all talked at once, it seemed. Carl ate without pausing between bites, and Levi seemed content to bristle with testosterone and occasionally stroke Faith’s neck.

  Tom sat next to Honor, his shoulder solid and warm against hers.

  Any minute now, someone was going to start the interrogation. The theme song from Jaws began playing in her brain. Da-dun. Da-dun. Dadundadundadundadun. . . doo doo loo, doo doo loo. . .

  “So how did you meet my daughter?” Dad asked sternly.

  Tom swallowed a third of a glass of wine. “At O’Rourke’s, actually. Lovely place. Nice people, those twins. ”

  “When was this?” Dad asked.

  Tom looked at her and frowned. “When was it, darling?” He looked back at her father. “She was slugging another woman, and I said to myself, ‘Tommy old chap, I think you’ve met the woman of your dreams. ’”

  Carl laughed, then took another huge bite of salt potatoes. The rest of the table was silent. Honor gave Tom a gentle nudge to the ribs.

  “I found out who she was, pestered her to go out with me and it was. . . what’s the phrase, love? Meant to be?”

  “That’s beautiful,” Goggy said loudly, giving Honor an arch look. “I can tell how deeply in love you are. Both of you. It’s a love match. ” Apparently Goggy had been watching some of those YouTube videos, as well.

  “As opposed to what, Goggy? Like, do people get married these days because they hate each other?” Abby asked, earning a snort from Charlie, his first sign of life.

  “At any rate,” Tom said, “I understand ours isn’t the only wedding being planned. Congratulations, Mr. Holland, Mrs. Johnson. ”

  There was a rare silence.

  Oh, fungus.

  “Honor, you’re getting married?” Abby shrieked, and there was yelling and wine sloshing and exclamations and Mrs. Kellogg burst into tears (not the happy kind), and Charlie left the table.

  “We were gonna keep that to ourselves for a little while,” Honor said tightly, turning to Tom.

  “Oops,” he said. “Cat’s out of the bag now, isn’t it?” He rubbed his forehead. “I’ll go talk to Charlie. ”

  “You can’t marry him!” Dad barked. “You just started dating!”

  “Do I need to point out your hypocrisy, Dad?” Honor asked as Faith hugged her.

  “I’ve known Mrs. Johnson for twenty years,” he grumbled.

  “Yet you still can’t call her by her first name,” Jack said.

  “And we’re old, Honor dear,” Mrs. J. said. “I have to agree with your father. Take some time. ”

  “I disagree,” Goggy said, giving Mrs. J. a dirty look. “They should get married. Right away. Otherwise, Tom might—”

  “You know what? We’re both adults. We’ll get married when the time is right,” Honor said, watching as Mrs. Kellogg poured ten ounces of wine into a water glass and chugged it.
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