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"Maggie, you've got to help me. Lily is acting weird," Ron Albert,
Lily's soon-to-be-husband, says in a higher-than-normal baritone voice.
"Lily is weird, Captain." Once he and Lily started dating on a regular basis, I began calling him Captain. Everyone thinks I call him that because he loves boats. The reality is he reminds me of Captain Kangaroo. "She was born that way, and there's not a thing I can do about it. I'm her best friend. I've earned the right to say that." With coffee mug in one hand and my cordless phone in the other, I walk into the living room and sit down on my sofa, causing the dappled sunlight to splay across my black pant legs as the recliner stool flips out.
"Come on, Maggie," he says, followed by a heavy sigh.
Okay, he's serious and I'm, well, not. "Sorry. What's up?" Lifting the warm cup to my lips, I take a quick sip. The smell of coffee mingles with the cinnamon scent coming from a nearby wall plug-in. The aroma relaxes me while Captain tries to undo my contented moment.
He lets out another exasperated sigh that gets my attention. I can almost see him raking his fingers through his white hair, a habit to which I've become accustomed. And let me just say here that Captain has a mustache as thick as his hair. But who am I to talk? I did, too, until I discovered that waxing thing. My husband hates it when I talk that way. Gordon says I'm perfect. Peacemaker that I am, I'm not about to argue.
"I don't know. She's acting as though she's having second thoughts about the wedding," Captain says, pulling my thoughts away from Gordon.
That comment makes me smile. How cute. He's getting jitters that she'll back out. Placing my coffee cup in a coaster on the stand, I mentally put on my counselor's hat. "What makes you think that?" Fingernail clippers on the stand catch my attention, and I reach for them. There's a hangnail on my right pinkie that has been driving me wild.
"Last night when I told her everything was set for the honeymoon on Bermuda Island, she said she wasn't sure she wanted to go."
I stop midclip. This is serious. If there's one thing I know about Lily Newgent, it's that she would not miss a chance to go to Bermuda Island. She's wanted to go there ever since she heard about that whole Triangle thing. Twisted, I know, but there it is.
"Maybe she was just tired. She had to do two perms yesterday." Okay, that excuse sounds lame even to my ears, but it's the best I can do on short notice. Back to clipping.
"I can't help thinking it's more than that." There's no mistaking the concern in his voice. It's probably that going from baritone to high tenor deal.
"Maybe she just needs some time to relax. She's been busy planning the wedding and all. She's probably worn out." With the determination of a lion going in for the kill, I snip off that troublesome hangnail and set the clippers aside, feeling rather victorious.
"That's why I'm calling you," he says. "I know this is asking a lot, and maybe you can't arrange it, but well, I was wondering if you could gather your coffee group--the Late Girls, or whatever you call yourselves--and take her somewhere to talk things out. You know, sort of a weekend getaway or something."
"Um, that would be Latte Girls." Get it right, will ya? Why is it men always put the words late and women together in the same sentence? "You really think it's that serious?" And I'm questioning this, why? A weekend getaway sounds heavenly.
"I wouldn't be calling you if I didn't. Every time I try to talk to her about the wedding, she changes the subject to that dollhouse she's decorating," he says.
She'd rather decorate a dollhouse than plan a wedding? Frightening moment here. This is our call to arms. Lily's in trouble, and we have to do something about it.
Doggone her, anyway. My nerves cannot handle any more. First Lily's Internet dating, then our son Nick comes home--laundry and all--and insists that he is not going back to college in the fall. Now this? She has to marry Captain so I can get my life back to normal. Well, as normal as my life tends to be anyway. Besides, I know Lily, and there is no doubt in my mind she loves him. If I can see it, why can't she?
"Let me call the girls and see what I can do. By the way, what exactly is it that you want me to do?"
"Convince her that marrying me is the right thing."
Someone has the jitters, and I don't think it's Lily. But if there is any truth to his way of thinking, as stubborn as Lily is, I'd put that challenge right up there with obtaining world peace.
"Maggie, the wedding is about six weeks away. We need to settle this now." Okay, now his voice could pass for a soloist in the Vienna Boys' Choir. I'm picturing him in a navy robe with a sailor-type sash. Somehow the white hair isn't working for me--to say nothing of his bushy eyebrows. The Fuller Brush Man could market those babies.
Vacation spells freedom, and with freedom right around the corner, my adrenaline kicks into gear. "Okay, Captain. Don't worry. I'll see what's going on." I plump the decorative pillows on my sofa, already attempting to formulate a plan. Some of my best ideas come while I plump pillows.
"It's going to take more than a little talk. She needs some girl time or something."
Plumping stops. "You know, most men would be clueless. That alone should get her to the altar."
He lets out a nervous laugh. Think chicken before the slaughter. "Hopefully, you're right."
"I'll call the girls."
"Maggie, dive into bushes if need be. Do whatever it takes."
"I dive into a bush one time to protect my best friend and people just can't let that die."
"Well, you have to admit that was a bit extreme, Maggie. Even for you."
My back straightens. "If you want me to help you, you're going about this all wrong."
"Okay, I'm sorry. Thanks for your help."
"No problem," I say, softening a tad when I hear the concern in his voice.
As soon as we click off, I dial another number. "Hello, Jill? We have an emergency. My house, tomorrow morning at ten. Tell Louise when you see her."
"Now, Maggie Lynn, you know how I feel about you interfering in other people's affairs," my husband says after brushing his teeth, rinsing off his toothbrush, tapping it against the sink for good measure, and putting it away.
Though I'm in our bedroom and Gordon is in the adjoining bathroom, I hear him pour mouthwash into a cup. His gargling resembles the caw of an exotic bird choking to death, and I'm suddenly transported to an isolated jungle, surrounded by monstrous plants and gnarled trees. The chance of him hearing me over his tribal ritual is remote, so I wait a moment before I respond.
He rinses out his cup then steps back into the bedroom. I half expect him to beat his chest and feel a twinge of disappointment when he doesn't. Instead he does another manly thing and picks up his socks with his talented viselike toes.
Too bad his colleagues at the law firm will never see this talented side of my husband.
"Lily is my best friend, Gordon. If she's having second thoughts, I need to help her." I spritz on some perfume and rub in the last of the cold cream on my neck, which, by the way, is so slick, it's a wonder my head can stay on my pillow at night.
"She and Captain will be better off without people interfering." It's cute how Gordon's picked up my nickname for Ron. "This is a decision only she can make, Maggie. Other people should not push their feelings upon her." After checking the alarm clock, he takes off his slippers and glasses, then crawls in between the bedcovers.
"Yeah, right, like that's gonna happen. Lily won't let us push her. You know as well as I do that if she thinks we're pushing, she'll back out of the wedding for sure." I remember well how my concerns for her Internet dating didn't deter her in the least. In fact, it ignited her passion for adventure. I crawl between clean, icy sheets. After my recent bouts with hot flashes, this is sheer bliss.
Gordon grins and rubs his jaw. "I guess you're right about that. Still, you always have fussed too much over her. She's your best friend, not your daughter." He turns to me. "By the way, Heather called tonight while you were at the grocery."
"You mean our married daughter whose husband took her five hours away from our Charming, Indiana, home to live in Illinois, that daughter?"
"Well, since she's the only one we have, I'd say she's the one."
I fluff the blanket around me. "I'm still bitter about that."
"I can see that."
"Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, she just called to talk." Gordon nuzzles next to me, and his goatee tickles my forehead. What Gordon lacks in sandy-brown hair on top of his head, he makes up for in his bushy, peppered-with-gray goatee. What a man. His cold feet press against the tops of my feet, soothing me. My skin hasn't been cold since 1998.
"So how's my favorite brunette?" Gordon gives me a squeeze.
"Okay, we both know that's using the term loosely, since I have a little help from my hairdresser."
"Hey, whatever works," he says, reminding me of all the reasons I married him.
"Oh, I meant to ask you, what time is Nick coming home?"
"He said something about midnight."
"They call his generation the boomerang kids. They leave home and come back."
"How about we throw him one more time and see what happens?" Gordon says in a teasing voice.
Visions of Nick's messy room flood my mind. "Might not be a bad idea."
"After all you went through with the empty nest, I figured you'd be happy that he's back home."
I straighten around and look at Gordon. "See, that's just it. I've finally settled into this new life. You're working less hours--well, you keep promising to anyway--and we're getting to the point where we can travel and do some fun things together. With Nick home, I feel torn."
"Well, he's not staying home and doing nothing, I'll tell you that right now," Gordon says, his body stiffening with every word. "That boy is going back to school in the fall, or he's getting a job. He can stay here if he chooses to go to school, but if he opts for a job, he can save and move out. I'm not trying to be harsh, but he has to develop his 'responsibility' muscles."
"Stay here?" My voice squeaks. I settle in to the fact we have an empty nest, and now this? I love my boy, I really do, but thoughts of pizza boxes, potato chip bags, and video game boxes strewn about the living room floor make me, well, nervous.
Here we go again, Lord. Things just get comfortable and--wham--another change. Will I never get these lessons learned?
"Well, hopefully, Nick will come to his senses and go back to school," Gordon says.
"So you don't think I should round up the girls? After all, Captain asked me to," I say, changing the subject before we work ourselves up into a parental fit.
Gordon sinks back into the covers and pulls me closer to him, resting his chin on the top of my head. "I don't care if you take Lily somewhere and you girls have a nice little getaway, just behave yourself." When I look up, his finger taps the tip of my nose.
"Hey, did I tell you that Jill said Donny Osmond is giving a benefit concert in Sarasota next week? Sources say he may be vacationing in Siesta Key beforehand."
Gordon's left eyebrow shoots up. "Something tells me you're headed for Siesta Key." He frowns. "Maybe I should go along."
"Why? You know you can trust me."
"I was thinking more about protecting Donny."
"Besides, I can belt out a pretty good rendition of 'Puppy Love' myself, you know."
"Yes, you can. It just doesn't sound anything like Donny Osmond." I laugh.
"Oh, that's cute. What does he have that I don't have?" Gordon flexes his muscles here.
"I'm clueless." It tickles me to no end when Gordon acts jealous.
"He's got his voice, but I have, um, well, um--"
He squeezes me into the circle of his arms. "Exactly." Without another word he kisses me with his usual tenderness, causing all thoughts of Donny Osmond and Lily to momentarily leave my brain. I've got better things to occupy my thoughts.
"Okay, girls, grab your mugs, and we'll get down to business." While they look the other way, I stuff cold, half-eaten pepperoni pizza down my garbage disposal, empty a glass filled with watered-down pop, then shove the dirty plates and glass into the dishwasher. Obviously once Nick got home last night, he had a pizza attack. Our garbage can is vomiting pizza boxes and chip bags. The reality of fast food and video games are quickly replacing my dream of taking a cruise with Gordon.
I place the coffee tray with the pot and all the fixings in the middle of the oak kitchen table. Jill Graham trots, literally, from the living room into the kitchen. She has been a fitness guru for as long as I've known her. If there's an opportunity to exercise, she'll snatch it. She's forty-five years old and could pass for twenty-five. I've seen pictures of her younger days. Her trim figure hasn't increased since she was twelve, doggone her. In fact, she looks as though she's lost a couple of pounds since I saw her last week. Oh well, she has her skinny waist, I have my sweets. We're good.
Makeup perfectly in place, Chico jewelry dangling from her neck and ears, and Ann Taylor fashions complimenting her size ten body, forty-eight-year-old Louise Montgomery waltzes into the kitchen with all the glamour of Miss America. Golden-brown hair sways on her shoulders with every elegant step. There's no denying Louise is as pretty as she is sweet. The one thing that drives me to distraction about her is that no matter if she's happy, sad, or indifferent, her expression never changes. She says she doesn't want to accentuate unbecoming lines, a.k.a. wrinkles. Truth be known, I secretly suspect she's getting Botox injections--though I've never dared to ask her. She might pop a stitch or something and then her face would sag all over the place. I just couldn't live with that.
On the other hand, my face shows every rut in my journey. I don't mind, really. Ditches would upset me, but ruts I can handle.
Louise pours herself a cup of coffee in a mug that says "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." It's my mug, but it fits her perfectly.
They both settle into their seats.
"Don't you want anything, Jill?" I ask.
"No, I haven't been drinking much coffee lately," she says. This coming from Mrs. Chihuahua in Heels. A little espresso in her veins, and she could outrun Superman. It's better for everyone involved if she cuts back awhile. Say what you will about Jill, her face is as animated as her body. She's a chipper little thing, with all the bounce of Flubber.
I haven't bounced since I was five.
"If you keep this up, you'll live to be a hundred and twenty-five." I pour myself a cup. "Though I'm thinking all the cold cream in the world can't help a century-old face."
"Well, I don't know," Louise says with pure sweetness. "The cosmetic industry is making great strides in wrinkle creams and youthful skin products."
The thing that scares me? I think she's serious.
"Good grief, Maggie, I stayed up half the night worrying about what you were going to tell us," Jill says. "Is it Nick? You could have told me ahead of time so I wouldn't have these dark shadows today."
Now that she mentions it, she does look tired. Serves her right for doing all that exercise.
"I've got the very thing for that," Louise, ever the Mary Kay consultant, says. She cups her hand near her mouth and whispers, "See me after this. I think I have something in the car."
Louise is the resident domestic diva and fashion queen and the fourth person in our coffee group, which we've now dubbed the "Latte Girls." We all go to church together. Jill and Louise started attending around the same time close to five years ago. We have been good friends since. For the past six months we've been meeting on a weekly basis for coffee and chats.
They both look to me. My fingers curl around the warmth of my coffee cup that has bold black letters that read, "Touch my coffee, and I'll break your fingers."
I hide it when the pastor comes over.
"Though you should probably throw in a few prayers for Nick that Gordon and I won't hurt him, he is not the reason I've called you here." After taking a sip of coffee, I explain my conversation with Captain to the girls.
"Do you think there's really a problem, or is Ron just getting paranoid?" Jill asks.
"I'm not sure. But I know we can make Lily talk. If there's a problem, we'll find out," I say, shoving away the gnawing reminder of Lily's stubborn ways.
Louise's perfectly arched brow lifts slightly. Not too much, mind you, because that could leave a crease. "From what I remember, Lily doesn't appreciate being told what to do."
"It's all in the how she's being told." I wiggle my eyebrows.
"What's in this for you, Maggie?" Jill's voice is thick with suspicion.
"Peace. I just want to get Lily safely married to a good man."
Jill's eyebrow arches. "Shouldn't Lily's happiness be in the mix there somewhere?"
"Happiness, schmappiness. That happiness thing is way overrated."
Louise gasps. Jill's eyebrows shoot straight up, and her expression freezes there. Reminds me of a figurine in a wax museum.
"Kidding. I'm kidding. Come on, you guys, you know Lily. She always gets nervous when she's making a major decision. Remember her potato binge before she bought her new refrigerator? Baked potatoes, chips, potato salad, you name it, she ate it. She gained five pounds over that whole ordeal. For what, I ask you?"
"A Maytag?" Jill offers.
"Exactly. She loves Captain. You've seen the way she lights up when you mention his name. You've heard her drone on ad nauseam about him. 'Ron this and Ron that.' It's actually quite sickening."
"That's true, she does do that." Louise's breathing has finally returned to its normal rhythm.
"Yeah. I can't tell you how many times I've heard about his contest and trivia addiction and 'Isn't that so cute?' business," Jill says with a slight case of the nasties.
"Lily hasn't been this happy in a long time. She deserves it," Louise says.
"Right," Jill agrees.
"Lily has cold feet, that's all. She just needs a little nudge from her friends to push her in the right direction." I kick off my shoes, scratch the arch of my left foot with my big right toe, then slip my shoes back on. I'm thinking Gordon's toe talent is rubbing off on me.
"Well, you know what I do when I get cold feet," Louise says matter-of-factly before taking a drink of her coffee.
"What?" I ask.
"I put on socks."
This is Louise's attempt at humor, which is why she will never be a comedian.
Another sip of coffee. "Do you know she did the same thing prior to her first marriage? The day before her wedding, Lily disappeared. I drove over to Rosetown and found her at our favorite ice cream place, downing a hot fudge sundae the size of Texas."
In wide-eyed wonder Louise asks, "What did you do?"
"I sat down with her and matched her sundae for sundae." The memory makes me laugh. "We waddled out of there, but we had a great talk and, well, she got married."
"She could be dubbed the Runaway Bride," Jill says with a nod, her pixie cut strawberry blonde hair never moving an inch. She's petite, right down to her elfin nose--which is smaller than my belly button. How wrong is that? "Lily has a reputation."
I brighten. "Don't we all?" My eyebrows wiggle deviously.
"Well, you do anyway," Jill points out.
"Where will we go?" Louise jumps in, trapping my sarcastic response behind my teeth. "For how long?"
The schedule queen has to have all the details. I drum my freshly manicured fingernails on the table.
"By the way, that red polish looks good on you, Maggie," Louise says, looking proud that she talked me into buying it.
"Thanks. I don't know where we'll go, but I'm open to suggestions."
The hall clock ticks as we sit in troubled silence, each of us trying to come up with an idea.
"Hey, is your condo in Siesta Key available?"
Jill smacks her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Duh, why didn't I think of that? We don't have any guests coming until the end of August."
"Siesta Key, Florida?" Louise asks.
"Yes." Jill's getting into the idea. Her eyes are flashing so bright, an accompanying siren would not surprise me. Then she hesitates and turns to me. "Does this have anything to do with Donny Osmond being there?"
"Donny Osmond will be there?" Louise claps her hands. "Oh, what fun!"
"Maggie?" Jill just won't let it go.
Bringing my hand to my chest, I do my best to look innocent. "I don't know what you mean."
They're not buying it.
"Now, Maggie, you have to promise to behave yourself," Jill says.
"I just want a picture, is that too much to ask?"
"Picture or two. Period. None of that getting us into trouble stuff."
With my index finger I cross my heart. "Scouts honor."
"Were you ever a scout?" Louise, the nosy one, wants to know.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Good grief, these guys are so paranoid. "Besides, I could use a little break from the kid," I say, pointing to Nick's socks that I've just spotted beside the recliner in the living room.
Louise and Jill look over and laugh.
"What's the deal with Donny Osmond? I thought you said Lily had the crush on him," Louise says.
"True. My real heartthrob was more Kurt Russell. But Donny was my singing heartthrob." I laugh. "I have all of his records."
"How do you know he's going to be in Siesta Key?" Louise asks.
"My neighbor there zipped me an e-mail and told me that Donny is doing a benefit concert in Sarasota, and the word on the street is that he and his family are vacationing in Siesta Key before the show," Jill says.
"Well, a Florida getaway sounds pretty good to me," Louise says.
My mind kicks into gear. "I'll get tickets online for the concert."
Jill tosses me a worried look then turns to the matter at hand. "We can go down, stay for a couple of weeks, and by the time we return, Lily will be longing for her wedding day the way a hormonal woman longs for chocolate."
"What would you know about that?" I ask Jill.
"Oh, I have my chocolate binges, believe me. I just don't give them a chance to linger on my hips."
If she glances at my hips, I will hurt her.
Skipping over the chocolate discussion, Louise turns to Jill and cuts right to the point. "You may have saved Lily's entire future." Louise looks at life far too seriously--but then it could just be that whole her-face-doesn't-move thing.
Jill shrugs as though it's all in a day's work.
"It's settled then," I say. "Of course, tomorrow when we meet for coffee at The New Brew, you can come in and suggest it as a girlfriend's getaway before the big day so Lily won't get suspicious. We'll all act surprised." It's a little devious, I know, but when your friend is in trouble, you do what you've got to do. Besides, we get a Florida vacation out of the deal. Who am I to complain?
Lifting my mug in the air, I reach to the middle of the table and say, "To the happy couple!"
Louise and Jill join me in the spirit of the moment, each clinking their mugs--Jill's is invisible--against mine. "To Lily, Ron, and wedded bliss!"
And just maybe a glimpse of Donny Osmond on the streets of Siesta Key . . .