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Baroque and Desperate
By Tamar Myers
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Tamar Myers
All right reserved.
I dreamed the plane was hijacked by Yankee terrorists. It was horrible. They held guns to our heads and made us say the pledge of allegiance in under one minute. They took away our glasses of tea, and forced us to gulp gallons of diet soda. Then, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, they tried to make us eat cornbread baked with sugar. Mercifully, I woke up before a crumb could pass my lips.
"You had a nightmare," the young man beside me said. "I didn't know what to do, so I poked you with my magazine."
I stared at him. He was handsome, too handsome for me to have missed when I boarded the plane. That's what happens when your cruise ship docks in San Juan on its final night, and you suddenly discover you have a taste for Puerto Rican rum.
"My name is Tradd Burton," he said, and gave me an easy, good-old-boy grin. "Tradd Maxwell Burton."
"Abigail Timberlake," I grunted. I do not dispense my middle name to strangers.
"You from Charlotte?" he asked.
I nodded, and my seatmate became a blur. There was no need to ask where he was from. Tradd Maxwell Burton couldn't say the pledge in under a minute, even if he taped it and played it on fast-forward.
"You been on a cruise?" he asked.
"How'd you guess?"
"I saw the nameof your cruise line on your bag when you put it in the overhead."
"You're very observant," I said, and closed my eyes. The young man had a right to be flattered. Usually I reserve sarcasm for close relatives and other people I care about.
"Hey, it wasn't one of those singles cruises, was it? I bet it was. A pretty woman like you..."
I said nothing. My head felt like a nut in a squirrel's jaws. I certainly wasn't up to flirting, even with someone as young and attractive as Tradd.
He droned while I drowsed. My best estimate is that I slept about an hour. When I awoke he was poking me again.
"You can stop it," I said. "I'm awake."
"Then put your seat forward in its normal, upright position. We're about to land in Charlotte."
I struggled to open my eyes. At some point my eyes had teared, running my mascara, and fusing my lashes together.
"Miss, I mean now."
I pried my right eye open with index finger and thumb. For my effort I was rewarded with a close-up of our stewardess, a battle-ax named Brenda.
You owe me six dollars for the drinks," she barked.
"When we hit that turbulence the captain asked us to take our seats, so I told your husband I'd collect later."
I glanced over at the seat beside me. It was empty-
I am vertically challenged -- four feet nine inches, if you must know -- so I didn't see Mama until the next-to-last passenger, a horizontally enhanced man, cleared my line of vision. Thanks to bellicose Brenda, who got another stewardess to swear she was a witness to the husband I never had, I had no choice but to pay for two phantom drinks. At any rate, Mama looked every bit as grim as Brenda.
"Oh, Abby, there you are!" Mama wailed and flung herself at my laden arms.
I hugged her as best I could. "There, there, I was only gone ten days."
"Abby, it was just awful."
"It couldn't have been that bad, Mama. You had bridge on Monday, church supper on Wednesday, and weren't you thinking of taking that karate class on Thursday? You said something about going for your black belt."
Mama struggled free from my embrace, almost knocking a bottle of golden rum from my hand. "You seem to be taking this awfully calmly, dear."
I pecked her cheek. "There. Is that better?"
"Is that all you have to say?"
I gave her the once-over. She is just four inches taller than L so it didn't take long. Same full-skirted, fifties-style dress, pouffed up by a crinoline that she's worn for the last forty years. Matching pumps and handbag. Same penned bob, but with a slight blue tint now that she's in her seventies. No, there was nothing new to compliment.
"Mama, I really am glad to see you. Look, I brought you a gift."
Mania blinked. "A gift?"
"Well, nothing really expensive." I shoved a shopping bag at her. "The shawl is for you, the conch shell is for Charlie, and the I LOVE PUERTO Rico T-shirt is for Susan. But since neither of them is here, you can have first pick."
Mama recoiled in horror. "How can you stand there and talk about souvenirs when you've been ruined."
"Mama! I thought we agreed not to talk about my sex life. But if you must know, I didn't even meet a man that appealed to me. I certainly didn't sleep with one."
"You didn't get my message, did you?"
I felt my newly acquired tan drain from my face.
"Is it the children?"
Charlie, nineteen and invincible, is fond of speeding in the Corvette my ex-husband gave him. Susan, twenty, is fond of older men. Twice she has given herself to the "only guy I'll ever love." Both my children are just a hormone or two away from disaster.
"Charlie and Susan are fine. It's your shop, dear."
"My shop? Was there a fire?"
The Den of Antiquity is my life, now that I'm divorced and the children are grown. Five years ago antiquing was just a hobby. Then one day Buford "the Timbersnake" Timberlake announced that he was trading in my forty-plus years for the forty-plus bosom of a twit named Tweetie who was all of twenty. Buford is Charlotte, North Carolina's most famous divorce lawyer, and has more connections than a telephone switchboard. There was no way I was going to get alimony, much less custody of my children.
Excerpted from Baroque and Desperate by Tamar Myers Copyright ©2006 by Tamar Myers. Excerpted by permission.
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