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A Few Pecans Short of a Pie 1
MARGOT CARY WANTED an ice cream sandwich and a beef quesadilla, but she wanted even more to stop throwing up every time she smelled sunscreen.
She groaned, her head hanging over a wastebasket her fiancé had thoughtfully placed on her side of the bed. Kyle Archer was nothing if not a thoughtful man.
Every time with the damn sunscreen. Coconut was a “trigger smell” for her morning sickness—along with raw meat and Kyle’s laundry detergent. And half of the tourists who came through McCready’s were slathered in tropical-scented sun protection. She didn’t begrudge them the SPF; she would just like to get through the workday without throwing up.
Also, she called bullshit on whoever coined the term morning sickness. She vomited whenever she was awake. And once when she was asleep, which was unfortunate, and had pretty much traumatized her poor fiancé, who now slept in a raincoat.
There was a word Margot had never thought would apply to her. Before arriving in Lake Sackett, she hadn’t been in any kind of relationship for years. And a serious relationship? She couldn’t say she’d ever been in one of those. She’d been so focused on building her career that she’d never had time. And she hadn’t exactly had the healthiest example of a marriage.
Her late mother, Linda, had left flaming tire tracks on the highway outside Lake Sackett in her effort to get away from small-town Georgia and her soon-to-be-ex-husband—Margot’s father, Stan McCready. She’d moved Margot to Chicago and effectively erased their Southern roots, telling Margot nothing about Stan and replacing him with a nice, bland, emotionally unavailable doctor. Margot had been raised in the upper-middle tiers of the Chicago social scene. She’d attended the right schools and gotten a job at an elite event planning firm. Margot hadn’t known anything about Stan until she’d been fired for letting a flock of flamingos stage a shrimp raid at a gala filled with the city’s most prominent people (not technically her fault, but still). Her great-aunt Tootie had tracked her down via her special brand of Internet sorcery, and now Margot found herself working for her estranged father’s family funeral home and bait shop, organizing services for the bereaved and wrangling the local PTA. While pregnant. And still not married.
She shifted, rolling her face on the blue-and-white farmhouse quilt her great-grandmother had made by hand. Margot had never met the woman, but Stan told her that Ellie had been a lovely, patient saint who smelled of rosewater and always had a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies in her potbellied-pig-shaped cookie jar. It seemed fitting to make the quilt the centerpiece of redecorating her bedroom with Kyle, with the colors reflected in the denim blue on the walls and the blown glass trinkets on the shelves. The swirling, abstract glass pieces weren’t worth much, but they were kept high above the reach of Kyle’s daughters, for safety’s sake—yet another new dimension to her life that she never saw coming.
She was going to be a mother, not just to this baby in her belly, but to Kyle’s two young girls. She didn’t want to play favorites, but since they weren’t the ones making her vomit, the girls had earned some chocolate chip cookies of their own later. Margot just had to summon the strength to get out of bed.
“Aw, honey, I’m so sorry.”
Even the familiar and much-beloved voice of her fiancé—that word again—from the doorway wasn’t enough to make her lift her head. “Hey,” she mumbled into the comforter. “What are you doing home in the middle of the school day?”
She heard Kyle’s footsteps round the bed. “Your dad called me.”
Margot groaned into the mattress and pulled a pillow over her head. “Oh no!”
“Yeah. Did you really throw up on the side of the hearse?”
She nodded, moving the pillow back and forth. Kyle settled on the bed next to her, his warm hand rubbing the small of her back. She moaned, wiggling her tailbone toward him. She was just finishing out her fifth month, but she’d noticed a growing tension in her lower back. She felt like her entire body weight was settling between her hips.
“I was holding the floral spray while Dad got the casket into the hearse for the graveside service. The Reillys were gathered around the porte cochere, arguing over who got to ride with Meemaw to the cemetery. And you know the Reillys are so pale they’re nearly transparent.”
“Notoriously ill-behaved gingers, the whole family,” Kyle said.
“Well, Nessa Reilly pulled out a tube of SPF fifty to slather up her kids before the sun exposure they were about to get in the cemetery. And it was Tropical Sunshield.”
“The most intensely coconut-scented sun block on the market.” He sighed, his tone sympathetic.
“And before I could say, ‘Excuse me for a moment,’ I turned and threw up down the side of the hearse.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“The kids all started screaming, and poor little Cammie Reilly got sympathy vomit all over her brother’s shoes. You can only imagine the riot that caused. My dad panicked and nearly dropped the casket trying to help me, which didn’t impress half of the male Reillys very much. They started yelling at Dad, and the other half of the male Reillys started yelling at their cousins to ‘shut their damn mouths’ because ‘Meemaw would whoop their sorry butts’ for being rude to a man worrying over his pregnant daughter. And then MaryLu Reilly made a crack about how my Meemaw would be spinning in her grave having a granddaughter who’s pregnant out of wedlock. And that clearly my mother didn’t raise me right in that den of inequity otherwise known as Chicago.”
“Well, she’s not wrong about Chicago.”
Margot rolled her eyes and continued, “And because I’m just a big ball of hormones, the yelling and the embarrassment and the unwed-mother judgment all just manifested in me bursting into snotty, uncontrollable sobs. Honestly, give me rampaging hangry flamingos and hysterical socialites anytime.”
Kyle pulled her pillow away from her face, revealing his in all its bearded glory. “Hi.”
He was as effortlessly handsome as ever, with his tousled sandy hair and deep brown eyes. He was wearing his typical “respectable elementary school principal” gear, khakis and a crisply ironed blue oxford shirt with his brass name tag still clipped to his chest. It was a far cry from the whole “haunted lumberjack” aesthetic he’d embraced when she’d first seen him, but it was still damned attractive. She felt nearly frumpy in comparison, in her yoga pants and faded green McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop T-shirt.
When they’d started dating, Kyle hadn’t had sex in years, not since his wife, Maggie, had died of cancer. And Margot hadn’t been in a relationship for much longer. Was it any wonder that, as far as she could figure, she’d gotten pregnant the first time they’d been together? They hadn’t even been Facebook official yet and he’d knocked her up like a virgin on prom night.
“At least you missed the casket,” Kyle said, his voice brightening.
She groaned, trying to pull the pillow back over her face. Kyle disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a damp washcloth, which he pressed to her forehead while handing her a Dixie cup with Disney princesses printed on it. She swished the water around her mouth and swallowed, feeling better for it.
“Come on, honey, sit up, drink that,” he said, reaching toward the nightstand and handing her an enormous glass of sweet tea, properly brewed, certified-Southern sweet tea, which Tootie had been supplying to her by the gallon every day at McCready’s. “Your dad said it would make you feel better.”
Margot snorted. Stan insisted that she’d been addicted to the stuff when she was a toddler, to the point that he nicknamed her “Sweet Tea.” But as an adult, she hadn’t developed a taste for it until she’d gotten pregnant. Her pregnancy stash was decaffeinated and contained about half the normal amount of sugar, but Tootie insisted it still counted.
Margot stuck the straw between her lips and sucked in a mouthful of the earthy, hypersweetened drink. She knew it wasn’t very healthy but sweet tea was one of the few things that she could still enjoy without nausea. If it weren’t for iced tea and dry toast, she wouldn’t have gained any pregnancy weight at all. Considering she’d seen some expectant mothers riding around town on dirt bikes, helmetless, with cigarettes dangling from their lips, she figured she was doing okay.
Setting the glass on the nightstand, she lay down next to Kyle on the bed. She snuggled into his shirt, enjoying the warmth against her face. He’d switched from his usual laundry detergent to an unscented brand after the Sunny Fresh scent triggered one of her first rounds of morning sickness. She sort of missed its inclusion in his spicy, woodsy scent, but the absence of vomiting was pretty important to her peace of mind.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Kyle told her. “You’re growing another human being. It’s a big undertaking. You’ve got all those extra hormones running through your system. And it’s not like you were throwing up because you were drunk, which is more than most of the Reillys can say by this time of day. And as for MaryLu, well, that’s just the local attitude about women and pregnancy. It’s not very evolved, but it is super entrenched and pretty much everywhere.”
She lifted her head and scowled at him. He tilted his head. “Yeah, that sounded better in my head.’
“I know it’s been hard on you, too,” she said, stroking her hand along his scratchy bearded cheek. “The PTA meetings have basically become Real Housewives reunion shows, and you’re the Bethenny.”
“The passive aggression has been very pointed. But it should slow down after the wedding,” he said. “It’s bizarre how suddenly everybody supports your marriage and your pregnancy as the ring slides on your finger. It’s one of the great hypocritical mysteries of Lake Sackett.”
She groaned again.
Wedding planning was something she’d expected to be easy for her. She was an event planner, for goodness sake. She was an expert in tablescapes and floral design and catering plans. She’d always thought she knew exactly what she wanted: a quiet, elegant affair at one of the old-guard society hotels in Chicago, with an orchestra playing jazzy dance music and food acceptable to those with unadventurous palates (also known as her stepfather’s British relatives). She’d thought her biggest battle would be fighting her mother for control of what Linda Cary would see as the Ambitious Social Climber’s Olympics.
But now that it was reality, she was frozen in indecision. There was no venue available in Lake Sackett that she wanted. The Dirty Deer was perfectly nice for an after-work beer but didn’t exactly scream bridal. And one of the two florists in town still wasn’t talking to her after she poked fun at the “Jesus Called Her Home” phone-shaped floral arrangement, which made working for a funeral home super fun. Also, after a predictably dry, emotionally distant conversation with her stepfather, she realized that she didn’t have to accommodate any members of his family, because neither Gerald nor his relatives planned on making the trip from England just to see a stepdaughter he hadn’t had a close relationship with in years get married to someone they didn’t know. So now her wedding slate was full of endless possibilities . . . but completely blank. She tried to picture herself walking down the aisle in a big white dress in front of all their friends and family, and the very idea seemed to make her brain recoil into itself like a snail.
“Still no big ideas, huh?”
“Oh, no, I’m overflowing with ideas. Most of them aren’t mine. Everybody has all of these really helpful suggestions as to how they can be involved in the wedding. Delilah Dawkins offered to be a bridesmaid.”
Kyle jerked his shoulders. “I think it would be kind of avant-garde to have a seventy-six-year-old bridesmaid. Just imagine the dress possibilities.”
Margot laughed. “And Sweet Johnnie Reed says we can use her kegerator. Apparently it’s vitally important to the function of a reception.”
Kyle chuckled, making a sympathetic noise as he pulled her close. “Yeah, that’s also super normal. Don’t feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to just to make somebody else happy. This is our wedding. It’s about what we want, not what they want.”
“I know. But it’s sort of easy to say that when it’s not your well-intentioned relatives standing in front of you, earnestly suggesting you use the funeral chapel for the ceremony.”
“Wow,” Kyle said, recoiling slightly. “Uncle E.J.J.?”
She nodded. “He said it would be nice to have a happy occasion in the funeral home. And I could ride up in the casket elevator to make a special entrance.”
Kyle’s mouth worked open and shut a few times. “You know, I know that I said I didn’t have a lot of hard limits with this wedding, but I’m going to have to draw the line at the word ‘funeral’ appearing anywhere on the invitations. Also, the words ‘casket elevator’ being involved in the ceremony.”
“I feel that is very fair,” she assured him.
“We’ll get it worked out,” he promised. “Anything you want—I want you to have your dream wedding.”
“What about what you want?” she asked.
“I just want to spend the rest of my life with you and our kids.”
She stroked her fingers through Kyle’s hair. It had been a shock, finding out they were pregnant so soon into their relationship. And she worried that she was rushing Kyle into something he wasn’t ready for, considering how deeply he had mourned Maggie for the first few years after she died. But the moment he’d found out about the baby, he’d popped the question. And she’d damn near said no. She didn’t want a marriage based solely on an unplanned pregnancy. But then he’d presented her with the ring he’d bought just before the night she blurted, “Oh my God, I’m pregnant.”
And how was she supposed to resist that?
Of course, that tasteful platinum-set solitaire didn’t fit on her increasingly sausage-like fingers anymore, but it looked nice on a chain around her neck.
Kyle had changed a lot of things in her life. Before Kyle, she’d never imagined herself getting married. Before Kyle, she’d never imagined herself as a mother. Before Kyle, she’d never imagined wanting either of those things. So why was she dragging her feet about a day that was a celebration of everything she was gaining?
“We can serve pizza at the reception,” Kyle said, smirking because he knew the best way to wind her up was over their fundamental pizza differences. “New York style.”
“I am not serving your structurally unsound, tasteless cardboard shingles at the reception. It’s Chicago deep dish or nothing.”
He shuddered. “All that unnecessary tomato sauce on top is not a good combination with fancy wedding clothes.”
“Which won’t be a problem because Chicago style actually holds its shape, as opposed to folding and falling apart in a greasy heap,” she shot back, poking him playfully in the ribs.
“We could make it a taste test,” Kyle said, grinning. “People can decide for themselves what they like better and then we can ceremonially toss all the leftover Chicago style in the garbage.”
“Too far,” she said, making him chuckle. “Shouldn’t you be getting back to school?”
“Yeah, it’s Taco Tuesday,” he said, shuddering. “That can get really ugly without a strong male figure policing the cafeteria. It’s basically Thunderdome with crispy corn shells.”
“Well, that’s what you get for serving hard-shell tacos. Someone could lose an eye. You should get back there before poor Miss Clarice hates me even more.”
“She doesn’t hate you,” Kyle said, his lips pinching together at the mention of the school secretary who filled the role of “disapproving mother-in-law” in Margot’s life.
She propped herself up on her elbows as Kyle climbed out of bed. “She left a pamphlet on your desk titled ‘Don’t You Think It’s Time to Plan Your Vasectomy?’?”
He nodded. “Yes, she did.”
He leaned in to kiss her, but she shook her head. “You’re going to want to rethink that.”
“Haven’t brushed your teeth, huh?”
“Okay, fine,” he said, leaning toward her middle and kissing her shirt over the swell of her belly. “Peanut, you’re in charge. Do me a favor and stop being so mean to your mom.”
Kyle glanced up at Margot, shaking his head. “He or she says they make no promises.”
“I could have told you that,” Margot muttered.
“Get some rest, honey.”
“I will. Wear your poncho!” she called after him as he left the bedroom. “Those pants are not taco-proof! And they’re dry-clean only!”
She rubbed a hand over her baby bump. “I would be offended that he put you in charge of me, kiddo, but we both know you’re pretty much in charge anyway.”