The perfect match, p.49
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       The Perfect Match, p.49

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 49

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  But Charlie didn’t see it that way, and it was probably time for Tom to acknowledge that he’d lost the war.

  Charlie was leaving.

  Tom’s heart sat like a chunk of dirty ice in his chest. He’d done what he could do for Charlie Kellogg. Tried to do right by the son of the difficult woman he’d loved. Maybe it had been worthwhile, despite how it seemed, but one fact seemed starkly, coldly true.

  He was no longer required.

  Tom bent to tie his shoes. Didn’t quite make it and found himself sitting with his head in his hands, the silence in the locker room underscoring the hollow in his chest.

  Mitchell was going to crush Charlie. Again. Or he wouldn’t. He’d take the kid away to a transient life of car racing and bars and school truancy and tattoos in questionably hygienic places. Charlie would never eat a vegetable again in his life. He wouldn’t go to college. He wouldn’t be forced to take hikes and participate in after-school clubs. He’d play Soldier of Fortune and Call of Duty and become fat and careless, and he’d barely remember some guy his mother had slept with.

  Tom wasn’t Charlie’s father. He wasn’t even Charlie’s stepfather. He was an idiot who didn’t know when to quit, who didn’t know his place, who rented a house and taught at a fourth-rate college, lived an ocean away from home and was about to commit fraud, just to be near a kid who wasn’t even his.

  And what was his, exactly?

  Nothing.

  The bass from the music in the gym thudded through the walls.

  Nothing.

  But maybe—perhaps—someone.

  Someone with gentle brown eyes and a way of listening and not passing judgment. Someone who was waiting for him to see what was right in front of his face.

  With that thought, Tom grabbed his bag and strode out of the building.

 

 

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  “IT’S SO TRAGIC here,” Goggy pronounced loudly, causing a herd of scowls to stampede over the elderly faces at Watch and Whine. “All these people, like sore-covered dogs dropped off at the pound. ”

  “It’s beautiful here. I wish they’d lower the age restriction so I could move in,” Honor said, pouring wine into the last glass.

  “We’d love to have you,” Mr. Tibbetts said to her boobs. And hey, God bless him. She could use a little ego boost, given that she’d apparently taken on old baseball glove status with Tom this past week.

  “Okay, people, our movie’s about to start,” she said, forcing some good cheer into her voice. “Help yourself to some merlot, please note the bloodred color and sit back and enjoy Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho. ”

  Sue her. She’d run out of wine-themed movies. Also, this little flick suited her mood. The patrons of Rushing Creek didn’t seem to mind; this movie had come out in their day, after all.

  Spike was dozing on the ample bosom of Emily Gianfredo and looked too comfortable to be removed. Honor sat down and tried to watch the flick.

  “It’s the son,” Mildred announced as Janet Leigh drove toward Bates Motel. “He killed his own mother and kept her body. He dresses up in her clothes. ”

  “Thanks for ruining it,” grumbled her husband.

  “You’ve seen this! You just forgot. We saw it with the Merrills when it first came out. You remember, at the theater before it burned down?”

  “I’d rather have someone stab me than live here,” Goggy said, sniffing.

  More wine? asked the eggs. Thanks, I’d love some, Honor mentally answered, and poured herself a second glass. The day called for it.

  Once again, she was in love with someone who didn’t love her back. Once again, she’d managed to tell herself a pretty little story with butterflies and Lindt chocolate truffles and a devastatingly wonderful man who adored her but just didn’t quite know it.

  And, she sensed, once again she was about to be dumped.

  Something had happened with Charlie, that she knew.

  That ten days (ten and a half) after the ball had been. . . everything. Tom had brought her flowers one day (and yes, pathetic female that she was, she saved a rose petal, because dang it!—no man had ever brought her flowers before, if you ruled out Dad). He pressed her against the wall and kissed her till her knees wobbled, and they did it on the kitchen table. The kitchen table, people! Come on!

  The sowing ceremony with her family. . . had she ever even pictured being the woman chased by her honey so he could steal a kiss? No. She hadn’t. Then, the day of the plane ride, the culmination of everything. For a little while, it had felt so perfect that the air itself shimmered. They’d been a family, a couple and their teenage son, biology be damned. And when Tom had kissed her hand and smiled at her, there’d been something in his gray eyes she hadn’t seen yet.

  Peace.

  And maybe a little love, as well.

  I believe that’s called wishful thinking, said the eggs, their eyes glued to Anthony Perkins as he peered through the knothole. Is there any popcorn?

  “Oh, no, she’s getting in the shower,” Mildred observed. “Honey, don’t do it! He’s about to kill you!” Honestly. It was like watching a movie with Faith.

  “I can’t see,” Margie Bowman said. “Juanita, why did you get that perm? Your head is too big now. Sit in the back next time. ”

  So far as Honor could tell, there were two possible scenarios for the future. One, she’d marry Tom and live in pathetic hope that he’d come around. Have a baby if she was lucky. Yearn for Tom to love her. Gradually adjust to the fact that he didn’t, or couldn’t. Work out a divorce when the time came. Move back in with Dad and Mrs. Johnson and raise her child, always a little melancholy to see those pieces of Tom Barlow in him or her, always blue when Tom came to pick up the kid for Wednesday night dinners and every other weekend. She’d come to Rushing Creek and do Watch and Whine and gradually add her own aching knees and lactose intolerance to the list of complaints. Send her child off to college and move in here and talk to her shriveled ovaries, the eggs long since committed suicide.

  Two, see above, minus the kid.

  “Anthony Perkins would’ve made an attractive woman,” Frank Peters said as Norman Bates killed the detective. “He has nice eyes. ”

  “My mother had that same dress,” murmured Louise Daly.

  When the movie ended, Honor turned up the lights, wincing at the sight of Victor Iskin and Lorena Creech making out in the back row. Emily handed Spike back. “She’s an angel,” she said.

  “Thanks, Mrs. Gianfredo,” Honor said. “It’s true,” she murmured to her dog. “Hey, where’s everyone going? We still have the discussion. ” Pathetic, that she’d rather stay here than head home to face the tension there.

  “Sweetheart, the Girl Scouts made grape pies for their baking badges, and we don’t want to miss out,” Goggy said.

  “We? Are you eating here? What about the food poisoning?”

  “That’s different,” Goggy said. “This is the Girl Scouts. They’d never poison me. Your grandfather is meeting me here, so you go along. Tell that handsome Tom I said hello. ”

  “Okay,” Honor said. She waved as the Watch and Whine audience tried not to trample one another in their rush to get to dinner.

  With a sigh that she couldn’t suppress, she put Spike in her bag, stood up and started packing the movie projector.

  “Honor?”

  She startled, banging into the cart, and Spike barked, then whimpered. “Brogan!” Honor said, clearing her throat. “Hey. How are you?”

  “I’m okay,” he said. “I called your office. Ned told me you were here. ”

  “Yes. Psycho. Part of the movie club. ”

  He gave a ghost of a smile. “Do you have a second?”

  His face was drawn, jaw tight. She glanced around; the auditorium was empty even of Victor and Lorena now. “Sure. What’s going on?”

/>   Brogan ran a hand through his thick hair. Bent down to pet Spike, who really only resented Tom, come to think of it, then straightened up again. “I’m really sorry to do this to you, On. It’s just. . . ” His voice broke. “It’s just that you’re my best friend, I think. ” He swallowed.

  The wine and cheese had yet to be cleaned up. “Um, want a glass of merlot? It’s really nice. Velvety texture, currant and blackberry jam overtones, dark chocolate and tobacco in the finish. ”

  He smiled, more genuinely this time. “Thanks, On. You’re the best. ”

  That was true. She got him a glass and sat down, glancing at her watch. Six o’clock. Tom would be done with the boxing club. She wondered if things would be easier at home tonight. Kind of doubted it.

  “So what’s up?” she asked. Her dog had already curled up on Brogan’s shoe.

  “I did call you,” he said. “Your cell phone was off. ”

  “Yeah. The movie and all. I’m old-school. ”

  He looked at her with those brilliant blue eyes. Much to her surprise, they were filled with tears. “Dana’s not pregnant. ”

  Without thinking, she reached out and gripped his hand. “Oh, Brogan, I’m so sorry. ”

  Poor Dana! A miscarriage, just when—

  “She never was. ”

  Honor’s mouth opened. “What?”

  Brogan covered his eyes with one hand. “She lied, Honor. This morning, she told me she thought she might’ve had a miscarriage, and so I rushed her into Jeremy’s office, and she was being all weird and resistant and stuff, and then she didn’t want me in the exam room, and I was freaking out, you know? I wanted to take her to the hospital, but then Jeremy asked me to come into the room, and she told me. She never was pregnant. ”

  “But. . . did she think she was?”

  “No. ”

  “Why would she lie about that?”

  Brogan shook his head. “She said I put all this pressure on her and she maybe thought for one day that she was pregnant, and then she kind of ran with it because I was so happy. So we had this huge fight, and I just don’t know what to think. ”

  “Wow,” Honor breathed. “I’m really sorry. ” She paused. “Where did you leave things?”

  “I don’t even know,” he said, his voice shaking. “I mean, can I marry someone who’d lie like this? Should I? And, On, the thing is, I really wanted to be a dad. ”

  She squeezed his hand. “I know how you feel. ” She paused. “I really want kids, too. ”

  “I hope you and Tom have a bunch,” he said, trying to smile at her.

  Oh, poor Brogan!

  “I guess you need to talk things over. Maybe cool down a little,” she said.

  He nodded. Then, abruptly, he covered her hand with his and held it hard. “You know what I wish, On?” he said. “I wish I’d fallen in love with you. I wish it so much. ”

  “Gosh. Thanks. ”

  “No, I mean it. ” His eyes were brimming. “You and I, we’re perfect for each other. I don’t know what was missing. We like the same things, we can talk for hours, and with Dana, maybe it’s just sex. Just a primal, physical reaction. All we do is screw—”

  “Okay, that’s probably too much information, big guy. Listen, I’m really sorry about all this, but I think you should be talking to Dana. ”

  “I’ve always loved you, On. ”

  She took a breath. “I seem to remember being compared to Derek Jeter’s old glove. Anyway, you’re upset, and—”

  “Maybe I just didn’t appreciate you. ”

  “Yes, that came through loud and clear. ”

  “But I would now. Especially after being with Dana. I can’t believe she lied to me! I told everyone I knew, Honor! Everyone! You’d never do something like that. ”
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