Another Thursday and another chapter! Also, the third book in the Curves series should also be out this week, as well as a standalone book some time next week. It’s been a busy time getting things back from editing. 🙂
The next morning, Claire was seriously regretting letting all the bridesmaids get that drunk. Apparently they’d never gotten all the useful lessons she had about drinking water and eating bread and all the other things you did to make sure that the liquor went to your stomach but not your head.
They were splayed over the lunch table like a bunch of wilted flowers, each looking worse than the last.
“I want to die,” Georgia groaned into the crisp white tablecloth.
“Die quieter.” With a white cloth napkin draped over her head, Teresa’s voice was barely audible.
“Keep acting like this, and you may both get your wish.” Looking at the entryway, Claire saw a flicker of blond hair and the distinctive awfulness of a purple faux fur jacket. “Heads up, here comes the bride.”
It was almost comical how quickly the two of them snapped to attention. The white napkin was snatched off Teresa’s head like a magic trick, and Georgia sat upright with the perfect posture of a china doll.
“Er… you might want to do something about that.” Claire pointed at the place where Georgia’s head had been.
Paling two shades, Georgia looked at the stains her pink lipstick had left on the table like they were fingerprints at a murder scene. “Oh god, I’m dead. She’s coming, Teresa! Do something!”
“What do you want me to do, throw myself on top of it? She wouldn’t like that either!”
Blue eyes narrowing, Georgia hissed, “Do something, or I’m telling her it was you.”
Teresa gasped. “You—I let you borrow my new lipstick!”
“That’s why it would work!”
Chuckling, Claire finally couldn’t take it any longer. “For the love of – here.” She reached out and moved the decorative ceramic pepper shaker over the stain. “Now you can blame me.”
The two girls looked at her like she was god, and it was starting to make Claire a little nervous. But Alex had sworn on his life that Amy had mellowed since she’d been away, that was the only reason why Claire had agreed to be a bridesmaid in the first place.
Now that she came to think of it, it had been a little strange that Alex never let her talk to Amy on the phone.
Amy arrived at the table like a hurricane, throwing off sparks of agitation in all directions. Behind her, the manager of the venue scuttled like an obsequious tail.
“I can’t believe I have to be here again,” she was saying as she approached. “God, you’d think there’d be a limit to how incompetent someone could be, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, Amy,” the manager said in a way that suggested he was very accustomed to saying those words.
“But apparently not! Honestly, what would happen if I didn’t check on you? Would you serve shrimp at my wedding instead of prawns?” Hands on her hips, she glared around the table. “Would you be happy then, any of you? Expecting a nice prawn and getting a shrimp?”
“No, Amy,” Georgia and Teresa said together.
“They’re the same thing?” Claire said bemusedly. Or at least they were here. While other towns might have both prawns – three-clawed – and shrimp – two-clawed – she’d visited the supermarket here enough to know that here, the term prawn only referred to a larger than average shrimp.
The look Amy gave her should have reduced her to a cinder. “They’re totally different, Claire. God, I thought you were supposed to be good with food now?” She turned back to the manager. “Get the plates out.”
“It’ll be a few-”
“God!” Amy flopped down in what Claire now recognized as being a larger than average chair, more similar to a throne than the others. Crossing her arms over her chest, she glared up. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go!”
Bowing like a majordomo out of some period drama, the man left the room with some speed. Oh, how Claire envied him. She was going to kill Alex for this.
As Amy berated Georgia for her smudged lipstick – apparently it denoted a ‘lack of focus’ that might affect the wedding in some indeterminate way, Claire considered her options.
She could fake being ill. That was always a classic, and she hadn’t gotten to use it in years. In a professional kitchen, all claiming sick got you was a face mask and a spot in the back of the kitchen peeling potatoes for the rest of the night so you couldn’t infect the others.
No, she reluctantly decided. That wouldn’t work. Knowing Amy, sick would become pregnant would become about to give birth, and then she’d freak out about the dress not fitting or Claire upstaging her or god knows what else.
“And you!” Amy turned on her, smooth blond hair flying around her face like the crack of a whip. “What in the world are you even wearing? Do you think this is that tacky diner or something?”
Rolling her eyes, Claire said, “I’m wearing jeans, Amy. I know you’ve seen people in jeans before – that’s basically all Alex has worn for twenty years.”
“Not. At. My. Wedding.”
“Well, no. It’s not like I’m going to wear them under my dress… or am I?”
“Don’t get upset, Amy!” Hands twisting, Georgia looked between the two of them like she expected them to come to blows, which was ridiculous. Wasn’t it?
One look at Amy’s face with its flaring nostrils and its angry, angry eyes convinced her otherwise. Right. No sense of humor, she’d forgotten that about Amy somehow. Perhaps it was her brain’s way of protecting her after wandering into her and Alex’s twentieth fight about his ‘insensitive remarks’.
“I’m just kidding, Amy. I’ll be wearing the dress to the wedding. And heels. And all the other things on the list you sent me,” Claire tacked on after seeing Teresa gesturing behind Amy’s head.
Oh god, this meant she’d actually have to find the list, didn’t it? She vaguely remembered seeing some mention of a hairdo diagram and deciding that the whole thing was a joke. Hopefully it was jammed in her purse somewhere and not feeding the rubbish bins of London.
Fortunately for her, it was at that moment that the manager stepped back into the room, followed by a waiter pushing a cart. Amy’s attention was instantly distracted, her eyes snapping to the motion like a t-rex.
“About time! We’ve been waiting for ages! Don’t you know how much I have to do?”
Across the table, Claire caught Georgia’s cornflower blue stare and a look of silent commiseration passed between them. In that moment, they shared a silent vision of what their life was going to be like on the day of the wedding.
Maybe faking an illness wasn’t the worst idea after all?
The plates were placed on the table with a smooth professionalism that only comes from fear. Chef Bruce, the dapper tyrant that ran the kitchen in London with an iron hand inside an iron glove inside an armored gauntlet, would have approved.
What he would not have approved of, however, was the plating. Claire felt her stomach lurch as she looked down on it, seeing food in obscene quantities piled together on the plate. There was no negative space, no artful swipes, only food already drowning in sauces.
She wanted to cry.
Looking up, she saw that the waiter’s face looked like he wasn’t far behind her. In that moment, she realized the terrible truth: Amy had asked for it to be plated like this.
As if to confirm her thoughts, Amy said smugly, “That’s more like it. God, can you believe they tried to get away with serving us the tiniest portions you’ve ever seen? What would people think?”
While the other girls told Amy how clever she’d been, it was all Claire could do not to whimper. Oh, the poor chefs. She couldn’t stand the thought of them, no doubt even now leaning on each other’s shoulders and weeping. Or possibly hurling butcher knives. From the chefs she’d worked with, it was a toss-up.
And then, like salvation or damnation, a tall figure appeared at the doorway. Wide-eyed, Claire met Noah’s eyes as he approached them with ground-eating strides, his face set in hard lines. Damn, he looked good. Why was she wearing jeans?
Obviously, she wasn’t the only one that thought so-Teresa and Georgia looked like they were about to melt their way right through their chairs. In a way, seeing that was a relief- it was just the normal reaction to his abnormal good looks, that’s all. Not a sign of anything else.
“Noah!” Georgia squealed. “What a nice surprise? Are you in the wedding party too? Oh, please tell me you’ve replaced Ronnie-I just know he’s going to spend the whole trip down the aisle with his hand on my ass.”
Teresa shot her a pinched look. “Oh no. If he’s saving anyone, it’s me! I have Pete. Pete. I’m going to smell like dog for the whole night?”
And there went Amy’s nostrils again. “If you think I’m going to change the wedding party now-”
“I won’t be in the wedding,” Noah said smoothly. “Except as a very minor catering assistant. But I’m sure you’ll both look lovely.”
Internally, Claire shook her head at the renewed squeals. Noah had gotten better at that since she’d been gone. She remembered finding him once backed up against a bookshelf by a trio of infatuated girls, and inventing an excuse to pull him away. He’d been so lost…
Well, that was a long time ago.
“So why are you here, Noah?” Amy demanded. “There hasn’t been a problem with the buffet service, has there? You know I wanted to keep some things local, but if your mother can’t-”
“I’m here to pick up Claire.”
All eyes went to Claire, who froze in the act of poking the mess on her plate into something like order. “What?”
Lips curving slightly, Noah looked at her with guileless eyes. “Did you forget? You promised to go see Gloria today. She’s been looking forward to it.”
“I…” She was going to continue on to say that he must be mistaken, but then she caught the twinkle in his eye. And then she thought about staying there, with Georgia and Teresa and Satan’s meaner sister.
So instead Claire said, “Of course I didn’t forget. Let’s go.” And stood up.
The smile she got in return curled her toes.