The perfect match, p.25
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       The Perfect Match, p.25

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 25

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “I call maid of honor,” Faith said.

  “What? I don’t think so,” Pru countered.

  “Pick me,” Abby said. “That way, you don’t have to choose between sisters. ”

  “Or me,” Jack said, giving her a one-armed hug and pouring himself some wine with the other hand. “Man of honor. It’s very hip. ”

  “We’ll talk about this later,” Dad said. “You can’t be engaged to a man you just met. ”

  “I can and am, Dad,” she said. He glowered. She glowered back.

  Family. Headaches. Heartburn.

  “Is there any more cheese?” Pops asked.

  If Honor made it through this meal, it’d be a miracle.

  * * *

  “CHARLIE? OPEN THE door, mate. ” At least it wasn’t freezing today, though the wind could cut a foreskin, it was so sharp. “Charlie, come on, don’t be a prat. ”

  You know, he was just not good at this. Once, he’d thought he was good with kids. That’s why he’d become a teacher. He loved it. Kids like Jacob Kearns, who visibly drank in learning, whose eyes lit up with excitement when they got a new theory; there was nothing better.

  But in these three long years since Melissa had died, Tom had really lost his touch. Especially with her son. And yeah, drinking a bit much had been a stupid idea.

  The boy stared straight ahead. His eyeliner was smeared. Not a sign of good cheer, wasn’t it?

  “Look,” Tom said, bending so he was at eye level. “She’s really nice. I think you’ll like her after you get to know her. ”

  “Who says I’m gonna get to know her?” he said. Good. At least he was talking.

  “I think you will. I mean, nothing will change with you and me. ”

  “Except you’ll have a wife. ”

  “Yeah. That. But I still want you to come over, and I want to teach you to box, and come to your school events and all that. ” Charlie hadn’t invited him to a school event in years. “Whatever you want, mate. ”

  No answer.

  “Her family are nice, don’t you think? Abby and you must see each other in school. ”

  That got a flicker of a glance.

  “And maybe it’ll be good, knowing some more people from around here. Having more family. ”

  “They won’t be my family. You’re not even my family. ”

  The kid knew where to aim, Tom would give him that. “I feel like I am. ”

  “You’re not. ”

  “All right, Charlie. I’ll leave you here. ” Tom started to go back inside, then turned around and bent down again. “I’ll always love your mum, you know. That won’t ever change. ”

  “Why? She didn’t love you. ”

  Another direct hit, right in the testicles this time. It was a second before he found his voice. “Come in if you get cold. ”

  Honor met him at the door of the big white house. “Is he okay?” she asked as he came into the hall.

  “Oh, he’s wonderful. ”

  “Well, everyone in there is freaking out. ”

  “Right. ”

  “Tom,” she said, dropping her voice to a whisper, “you have to take this more seriously. We have to be convincing, or we’re going to get caught. Levi’s the chief of police. If he gets a sense that we’re not really a couple—”

  He grabbed her and kissed her hard, not trying to be gentle, a fierce, primal kiss that had nothing to do with seduction or tenderness, and everything to do with frustration.

  Then her mouth opened, and her hands went to his chest, and he pushed her against the door, pressing against her softness, gentling the kiss, cradling her head in his hands, her short hair soft and silky, the taste of her making him forget everything else, and there was only the softness of her mouth, the sweetness of her.

  Then he released her abruptly and took a step back. “How’s that? Good enough?”

  Her eyes were wide.

  “Sorry. ” With that, and his frustration far from spent, he went back into the din of the mob.

 

 

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  TOM HAD FORGOTTEN about the little rat-dog.

  Spike. That was it. The little rodent had already bitten him today. Twice. Granted, its teeth were the size of staples, but it was the principle of the thing.

  Honor sure had a lot of stuff. Boxes and boxes of things. Books. A bloody giant computer. Pictures to hang on the wall. Two enormous suitcases.

  She was serious about this thing.

  “Okay,” she said when he’d brought in the last thing in her car. “I guess I’ll unpack. ”

  He couldn’t seem to drag his eyes off all those boxes. “Right. ”

  “Which bedroom should I take?”

  “Oh, right. Whichever one you like. ”

  Her cheeks grew pink. “If Immigration does a house check, our stuff should be together. In the same bedroom, I mean. ”

  He looked up. “Oh. Sure, then. Mine’s on the right. ”

  “Okay. I’ll put my things in there and, um, sleep in the other room?”

  “Great. ”

  “We should also take some pictures of the two of us, looking happy. Different settings. Courtship photos. ”

  “Sure. Whenever you want. ”

  She gave a nod. “Then I’ll go settle in. ”

  “Need any help?”

  “Nope! I’m fine. I’m good. It’s all good. ” She went, obviously eager to nest, or get away from him, or both.

  The little dog squatted and peed on the rug. Lovely thing, really. Then it followed her up the stairs, so tiny it had to leap up each step.

  Tom glanced at the clock on the stove. Four o’clock. Too early for a drink, unfortunately. Very well. He could correct the midterm debacles, and then take a look at the plans for the little Piper Cub he was supposed to modify. And give Jacob a call to set up a meeting so the lad could get a little glimpse of what a mechanical engineer could do.

  But a drink would be nice, seeing that Tom was now engaged to one Honor Grace Holland, who wanted very much to have this all work out.

  And if it hadn’t worked out with Melissa, how in bloody hell was it going to work out here?

  * * *

  FOUR YEARS AGO, Tom had come to Manhattan for the summer, as he hadn’t been to the States before. Had never left England, for that matter, always too busy working or boxing or in school. Figured he’d start in the legendary city and possibly head to some of the national parks the Yanks were so proud of.

  After a few days in Manhattan, he went to see his great-aunt Candace, who lived in Philadelphia—The Birthplace of Freedom, the sign announced, rather cheekily. Honestly, the Americans thought they invented air. Tom barely knew Aunt Candy, but she was his late grandmother’s baby sister. His dad had fond memories of her and asked him to make a point to see her. So Tom rented a car and made the obligatory trek, and Aunt Candy embraced him like he was her long-lost son. She showed him the sights, the cracked bell, Independence Hall. When she brought him to the art museum, he ran up the steps (along with three or four other tourists), and danced around at the top near the statue of Rocky Balboa, making his great-auntie laugh. He treated her to dinner, and when she asked him if he’d stay one more day so she could show him off to her friends, he agreed. She was quite the lovely old bird.

  He went to her church picnic the next day, where her friends cooed over his accent and told him he was adorable, clucking that he wasn’t married yet at the ripe old age of twenty-eight.

  “Will you help me fix this?” came a voice, and Tom looked down. A smallish boy with a mouthful of teeth too big for him held up a cheap plastic kite. One of the plastic braces was broken.

  “That’s Janice Kellogg’s grandson,” Candy said. “Charlie, this is my grandnephew, Tom. ”

  “Let’s have a look, then, mate,” Tom had said. He took out his pocket knife, cut
a stick from a nearby bush, bent it so the wind resistance would be greater, whittled the ends, sliced off a long strip of plastic tablecloth and replaced the tail. A few minutes later, Charlie’s kite took off, higher and faster than any other in the park. Who better to fix a kite than a mechanical engineer with a minor in aeronautics? The look of delight on the kid’s face. . . it was lovely. He knelt down next to the lad and showed him how to make the kite do a figure-eight, getting a yelp of joy as reward.

  “Thanks for helping my son,” came a voice. Tom looked up, and fell hard.

  Melissa Kellogg was beautiful, all long black hair and blue eyes. Twenty when she had Charlie, thirty now, single. “His father is a rat-bastard,” she confided in a whisper, “but I try not to let Charlie know. ” She worked as a paralegal, loved her kid, had a flowery tattoo on her neck that flirted with the edge of her blouse.

  By the end of the picnic, she’d asked Tom if he wanted to have dinner with the two of them.

  He did.

  He had dinner with them on Monday as well, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and on Friday, the elder Kelloggs took Charlie for the night, and Tom took Melissa to bed.

  He never did get to those national parks.

  By September, Tom had a work visa and a TA position at a small college, a step down from his post at University of Manchester, but it seemed like a small price to pay. He moved in with Melissa and Charlie in their duplex in a worn but respectable part of Philadelphia, totally smitten with both of them.

  The kid never shut up; he was interested in everything, made obscure references to Jedis and Dr. Who—right up Tom’s alley, in other words. Melissa often used to comment that they were the same mental age. Charlie asked if Tom would build him a tree house, sought his advice on making a car for the soapbox derby and made so many paper airplanes that Melissa complained about not even being able to find a piece of paper for a grocery list.

  For a while, it was perfect. A beautiful woman, a great kid, a not-bad job. Incredible sex. His teaching career, which had started off with him beating out thirty-seven other candidates for a fast-track tenure position back in England, didn’t matter so much anymore. For extra money, Tom did a bit of consulting for a guy who made custom airplanes for the wealthy, so it was all good. No, it seemed like Tom had walked straight into a perfect little family.

  He’d been in love quite a few times before, starting out with Emily Anne Cartright, his next-door neighbor who broke up with him when they were six. But Melissa. . . she was special. Amazing in bed—no man would underrate that. Fiery and funny, too. She seemed to like to fight over little things, but given what happened after those spats, Tom grew to love fighting.

  And she was a good mum, even if she relied a bit too much on the orange macaroni and cheese that came from a box, even if she let Charlie watch too much television and play violent video games. But she loved him, it was obvious. Fussed over his hair, cooed over his Lego creations, laughed with him at bedtime.

  At first, Tom couldn’t quite believe his luck. Why this beautiful woman would be so available was a mystery. She seemed to be the entire package. She seemed. . . perfect.

  She wasn’t, of course.

  After the initial blush wore off, Tom started to see that Melissa was a bit of a malcontent. She didn’t like their house, though Tom thought it was pleasant enough. She wanted a different job. Hated her coworkers, felt the company’s policies on sick time, lunch hour and vacation were unfair. In seven years, she’d held eleven jobs, everything from a waitress to a shampooer at a posh salon to a medical assistant. When he suggested she look into something else, she’d snap that she didn’t know what she wanted, then go on to name rather ridiculous ideas, Tom thought—veterinarian or restaurant owner or architect. . . jobs for which she had no skills or schooling, and no willingness to get them.

  And then, after a few months, he felt her discontent latch on to him. It was a terrifying spotlight to be in. She had a way of looking at him, as if calculating just when she’d ask him to move out. If he talked about kids in his classes, she often sighed or started doodling, her boredom clear. Whereas Tom loved the normalcy of their lives, of watching movies with Charlie on Friday nights and taking a bike ride through the city on Sundays, Melissa wanted to go out, hear a band, party, that American word for get pissed. Their first big fight came when her parents couldn’t babysit, and she wanted to leave Charlie home alone.
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