The perfect match, p.31
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       The Perfect Match, p.31
 

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
Page 31

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  Honor jumped. “Oh, I figured it would just be a city hall thing. ”

  “What? No! You have to get married at the Barn,” Faith said.

  Honor cleared her throat. “It won’t be at the Barn. We, uh, we might just elope. ”

  “And kill your father, Honor Holland?” came Mrs. Johnson’s voice. The woman had batlike hearing.

  “Huh. I hadn’t thought of that. ”

  Faith turned to her. “So. Let’s get to the good stuff. What was it like, your first kiss with Tom?”

  “Oh, uh, it was great. ” A lame answer. “Um, how was yours with Levi?”

  “Amazing. He kissed me after a seizure. ”

  “Isn’t that against the law?” Pru asked.

  “Not in this state. It was the morning after. Actually, our first kiss was in high school. That was hot, too. He’s the best kisser in the history of the earth. ”

  “I don’t know about that,” Pru said.

  Honor didn’t, either. Tom was gifted in the kissing department. The memory of the kiss in the cellar made her feel downright. . . swoony.

  “You’re blushing,” Faith said.

  “Hey, you’d blush, too, if you know where Carl and I did it this morning,” Prudence said. “Oh. You were talking to her. Yeah, Tom’s a hottie, that’s for sure. That accent is incredible, even if I can barely understand him. ”

  “What kind of accent is that, anyway? Cockney?” Faith asked.

  “Nope. Manchester. Just a basic blue-collar accent, I guess. ” But yes, it had a certain pull to it.

  Gwen darted past again, fear on her face and rightfully so, then returned a second later with another dress, brave girl. They could hear some murmuring and a respondent growl from Mrs. J.

  Prudence sighed. “I can’t believe we of all people didn’t bring wine to this. Mrs. J. , come on! Show us one, for the love of God!”

  “Fine, you rude girls,” Mrs. Johnson called. “But I look ridiculous. ”

  She came out of the dressing room, and all three girls leaned forward. “Oh, Mrs. J. ,” Honor breathed. “You’re beautiful. ”

  The dress was simple—a mermaid-style gown with ruching and the requisite, nonwhorish straps. It hugged Mrs. Johnson’s rather stunning figure. Her dark skin glowed against the white fabric, and her close-cropped hair made her neck look long and lovely.

  “Sold,” Prudence said.

  “I love it,” Faith murmured.

  Mrs. Johnson frowned down at the dress and gave the bodice a tug. “This would look nice on you, Honor. Not me. I’m an old woman. ”

  “How old are you, anyway?” Pru asked.

  “None of your business, you impudent child. ”

  “Hey,” Faith said. “You’re going to be our stepmother. Be nice. ”

  “This is my nice. ” She gave them a regal scowl.

  Honor got up and stood next to Mrs. Johnson. “Dad will love this dress,” she said, bending to kiss Mrs. J. ’s cheek. “Come on. Take a look at yourself. ”

  She slid her arm around Mrs. J. , and the two of them looked at the mirror.

  “Shall we put on a veil and get the whole idea?” Gwen asked.

  “Do I look like the type to wear a veil?” Mrs. Johnson said, though her voice was dreamier now. She couldn’t seem to take her eyes off her reflection.

  “Get a veil. Here, I’ll come with you,” Pru instructed. “Faith, come with me. I don’t know a thing about this girlie stuff. ” Indeed, Pru was still in her farming clothes, not that she got out of them much.

  The three other women to the accessory room, and Honor just looked at Mrs. J. “I think this is the dress,” she murmured. “Don’t you?”

  “I think you may be right,” Mrs. Johnson said. A smile gentled her face.

  “I’m so glad you and Dad found each other,” Honor said.

  “I’ve loved him for years,” Mrs. J. said. “Oh, dear, don’t tell anyone I said that. My reputation will suffer greatly. ” She gave Honor a squeeze. “But it’s true. ”

  “You hid it well. ”

  Mrs. J. gave her a pointed look. “And you’re hiding something, too, aren’t you, Honor?”

  Guilt over lying flashed hot and sharp. “Um, no. ”

  Mrs. Johnson huffed. “Please. You can’t fool me any better than when you were a little girl. ”

  “I was sixteen when you met me. ”

  “Exactly. And you’re a terrible liar. Why are you marrying this man you just met?”

  “Shh! Mrs. Johnson, come on!” Honor’s face was brick red in the mirror.

  “Is it for a green card?”

  “Shh! That would be fraud! And I’m not exactly the law-breaking, Jesse James, Tony Soprano kind of person. Am I?”

  “No. Which is why I’m so concerned. ”

  “It’s just. . . love. ”

  “Bah. ”

  “Mrs. Johnson. . . ”

  “Honor, my dear,” she said gently, “I won’t tell anyone. But do you think you should be marrying someone you don’t love? Settling for a person because he’s pleasant and needs a favor?”

  Honor wiped her hands on her skirt. “Um, no. I shouldn’t. But I—” She took a shaky breath. “You can’t tell Dad,” she whispered.

  “I won’t. ” The housekeeper’s eyes were kind, even if her face was solemn.

  Honor took a deep breath. “Not everyone gets a true love, Mrs. J. ,” she whispered. “Some of us make the best with what life offers. ”

  “And you’ve done that ever since I’ve known you, Honor Grace! Don’t be a martyr!”

  “Martyrdom is our family motto,” Honor said. “You should know that by now. And Tom’s nice. He’s a good person. I do have. . . feelings for him. ”

  “Does he have feelings for you?”

  “Yes. I think so. He could, at any rate. Maybe. ”

  “Doesn’t that sound heartening. ” Mrs. J. gave her a pointed look.

  Honor sighed. “Faith and Pru are coming back. ”

  “If you need someone to talk to, my dear, you can always come to me. ”

  Her heart softened. “Thank you. ”

  Pru and Faith approached, a long lacy veil trailing from the hands of the consultant. “Don’t bother,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I’m not wearing it. It looks impudent. The dress, however, I’ll take. ”

  As they were paying for the dress, Faith leaned over the counter. “Gwen,” she said to the shop’s owner, “so long as we’re here, can we schedule an appointment for my sister?” She flashed a smile at Honor. “Is that okay? You can’t really elope or just go to city hall. ”

  Honor swallowed. “Sure. Why not?”

  Because especially after that kiss in the cellar today, she wanted to marry Tom Barlow. Illegal or not.

 

 

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  “THAT’S IT, CHARLIE. Get that hand up, mate. ” Tom stood behind the heavy bag, trying not to wince. Charlie’s jab was pathetic. “Put your shoulder into it, remember?”

  “I’m trying!” He wasn’t, that was the problem.

  “Good! Now your hook. Side of the bag, come on. Get that hand up. ” Charlie flailed listlessly, his so-called hook weak and off-center. “Brilliant! So how’s school these days?” Anyone beat you up recently?

  No answer.

  One would imagine that if Charlie were being bullied, he’d be interested in learning to fight. Perhaps it was a positive sign that he didn’t seem to care about these lessons.

  The gym door opened, and Charlie threw himself into the effort, punching like a little dervish, his voluminous T-shirt flopping around him like sweaty wings. The lad glanced at the door—not Abby Vanderbeek. His arms dropped to his sides.

  “Hands up,” Tom said, reaching out to tap the lad on the side of the head to demonstrate that an opponent could find an opening.

  “Don’t t
ouch me,” Charlie muttered, returning to his lethargic punches.

  “There’s a tournament coming up,” Tom said, more to make conversation than because he thought Charlie would actually be interested. “Ages fourteen and up, division by weight. You could enter. You’re getting really good. ” A lie, of course.

  The bell rang, and without a word, Charlie slouched away. Lesson over, apparently.

  Furthermore, the kid wouldn’t shower at the gym, so he rather reeked on the short drive back to the Kellogg house, ignoring Tom completely, staring out the window.

  It was bloody amazing, Tom thought as they pulled onto Apple Blossom Drive, how long the kid could hold a grudge. Even if Charlie was correct in blaming Tom for Melissa’s death, when would Tom be forgiven? He wasn’t the one behind the wheel of the car that’d struck Melissa. He wasn’t the one who told Melissa to text and cross a busy intersection at the same time. He’d rewritten his life these past few years for Charlie, and the little bugger wouldn’t give him the time of day.

  He loved Charlie. He hated Charlie. He was afraid for Charlie. Every day, there was another tragic story of a teen suicide. Those faces on the news—so young, so doomed—made a cold sweat break out on Tom’s back.

  He pulled up in front of the Kelloggs’ house. “See you soon, mate,” he said.

  Surprisingly, Charlie didn’t move. “Is anyone else doing that tournament?” he asked, not looking at Tom.

  “Um, no, not that I know of. ” Anyone else would probably mean Abby Vanderbeek. “I’ll mention it on Tuesday at the self-defense class. ” He paused. “Are you interested?”

  Charlie shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe. ”

  “Great! That’s brilliant. ” So maybe boxing was a way to bond. Or impress girls. Hell. That’s why Tom started. Either way, it was a step in the right direction.

  “I can look into it for you,” he said. “I’d need permission from your grandparents. ”

  Another shrug.

  “Right. Well, I’ll walk you to the door and mention it, shall I?”

  Janice greeted him with her usual once-over. “Hello there, Tom,” she said to his crotch.

  “Janice. ”

  “How was he? Horrible?”

  “No, he was great. See you, Charlie. ” Tom waved, but the gesture was not returned. Then again, Charlie didn’t flip him off, either, so maybe that was progress. “Listen, Janice, Charlie might be interested in a boxing tournament for kids his age. ”

  “Really? I can’t imagine that he’d beat anyone. ”

  “That’s not a great attitude, is it?” Tom said. “If he’s motivated—”

  Janice snorted.

  “He’s got potential. I mean, perhaps he’s not born to the sport, but if he’s interested, let’s encourage that. ”

  “Fine. I suppose it’ll cost more money. ”

  “I’ll cover it. Not to worry. ” She was staring at his neck, vampirelike, if there were middle-aged vampires who wore pink tracksuits, that was.

  “I don’t know why you bother,” Janice said. “He’s not exactly a joy to have around. ”

  Tom gritted his teeth. “He is to me. ”

  “Right. ” Derision painted her features, and for a second, it felt like Melissa was standing right there.

  “I’ll be in touch,” Tom said.

  “Suit yourself,” she said. “But don’t count on him following through. He’s lazy, just like Melissa. ” One more look at Tom’s junk, and she closed the door.

  How was that for positive reinforcement?

  Tom’s jaw was clenched as he got back in the car. Add to this, it was allegedly spring but utterly beastly out. Freezing cold and damp.
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