“Smile when you’re scared. Laugh when you’re angry. Never tell what you’re really thinking. Cordelia Simms was always a quick study. Her brilliant mind and dysfunctional family prepared her perfectly for a career in the snakepit of an Old-South, old-money law firm, but she took a few detours along the way. Now the shameful secrets in her past put her future – and her child – at risk.” Previously… Cordelia’s coworker Scott asked her to include his social-climbing parents in her party. She agrees to do him a favor – but she still doesn’t trust him. His parents can come, but not him.
Saturday night roars in on a summer thunderstorm that has Mom, me, and the catering staff scrambling to move the garden-party buffet into the house.
Then my sitter begs off with stomach flu. Of course. Bella shrieks at every thunderclap. Keeping me in a stranglehold seems to be the only thing that makes her feel better.
When the first guest rings the doorbell, I follow mom into the foyer. Bella’s on my hip, determined to find the goldfish cracker she dropped down my cleavage.
Mom pats my back. “Relax, honey. You look witchy when you’re nervous.”
I shut my eyes. It’s got to get better, right?
For a while, it does. Marj is suitably impressed with the setup, and makes nice with Mom. She even looks sober. The guests, especially Dad’s old buddies, take on over Bella. Tasha lets me introduce her around as our MVP, and turns on the charm. Anthony even shows up with a crisp stack of Simms Electric business cards in his back pocket.
Mrs. Joyner arrives, stunning in an orchid silk suit. She pats my cheek and makes a beeline for my mother. She presses a wooden gift-box of chutney and salsa into Mom’s hands and swoops her into a J’Adore-scented hug.
Mom holds her arms out like a mannequin, a rictus grin on her face.
“Mom, this is Ms. Jeannie Joyner. She remembers Dad fondly,” I murmur.
Mom fixes her face and pats Mrs. Joyner’s shoulders tentatively. “How sweet! Thank you.”
Bella starts to fuss, so I take her into the study to settle. If I can get her half-asleep before we go upstairs, she might stay down. I leave the lights off, put Bella on my shoulder, and push the door to a crack. I’m patting, humming and swaying when I see a new set of arrivals pass my peephole.
He’s got the chin and the GQ polish. She’s got the wavy hair and the teeth. It’s got to be the Chastains. I shake my head. I hope Scott gets his brownie points, because I’m going to cash some on him, for sure.
The Chastains turn and gesture – they’re introducing someone to Mom. The extra guest steps into my eyeline.
I flatten myself against the study wall like James Bond. “Dammit!”
They brought Richard Demarest.
I ease behind the door and peek out again. Richard is shaking Mom’s hand in both of his own, with the light behind him setting off his profile.
My cussing must’ve disturbed Bella. She rears back and then turns to see where I’m looking. And the light behind her sets off her profile.
I suck air through my teeth. Bella turns back to me, batting her sleepy green eyes. Green. Not like anyone on Mom’s side or Dad’s. Green like Richard’s.
I push the door shut and lean on it. Suddenly, my baby weighs a thousand pounds. Oh, God — I’ve got to find a trash can, quick.
Don’t puke on the baby. Don’t puke on the baby.
I grit my teeth. “It’s okay, sweetie. Let’s sit down. It’s okay…”
I get her on the floor by the wastebasket just in time. She’s fascinated.
Anthony taps on the door just as I’m wiping my mouth and checking my hair for chunks. “Hey, sis…” He sees me squatting. “Whoa, are you okay?”
“Not so much.”