Wedding Bell Blues

By: Meg Benjamin

As far as Janie could tell, nothing about her felt remotely like flipping, most certainly not her heart.

Pete changed his clothes before he headed off to dinner at Brenner’s, but he told himself doing that had nothing to do with his mother. He’d put on khaki slacks and a dark blue knit shirt because Cal and Docia, not to mention Docia’s folks, had gone to a lot of trouble. He was just being supportive. Changing his clothes had nothing to do with the frequent, pointed references his mother had made to his T-shirt and jeans on the unusually long ride back to Konigsburg from the airport.

Of course, his mother probably wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than a sport coat, preferably a suit and tie. Pete had no intention of putting one on, even to keep the peace.

At Brenner’s, the main room glowed with the light of the setting sun while candles threw circles of warmth on each table. Lee Contreras nodded in his direction, then pointed toward a door at the side of the room. “They’re in there. The private dining room.”

Pete veered to the right as the door opened behind him and Docia’s mother swept into the restaurant.

Pete envied Cal for a lot of things, but he didn’t think Reba Kent was one of them. In fact, he found her a little scary. None of the women he knew in Iowa looked like Reba—sort of like she was outlined in neon.

At the moment, she wore a flowing, floor-length dress made out of something soft and shimmering. The dress was patterned in the kind of purple and green Pete usually associated with Mardi Gras. The multi-colored jewels that glittered at her ears were probably real, given the net worth of Reba and her husband, Billy. She was almost as tall as Docia in flats, and her high heels elevated her eyes well above Pete’s shoulder.

She caught sight of him just as he turned toward the dining room door. “Why Mr. Toleffson,” Reba trilled. “Looks like I’m just in time to have an escort to the dining room.” She widened her large cornflower eyes and batted her eyelashes at him.

Pete hadn’t gotten used to the eyelash-batting thing yet—he’d never actually seen anybody do it before, and it still made him feel vaguely under attack. But apparently Reba didn’t mean anything by it. Just some kind of all-purpose, southern belle greeting. Pete extended his arm in her direction. “I’d be delighted, ma’am.”

Batting her eyelashes again, Reba laid a hand on his sleeve. “Lead on, sir, lead on.”

Pete took a couple of steps inside the private dining room and stopped cold. The room looked like something out of Dallas. Dark oak paneling stretched on three walls. The fourth was a massive fireplace made of white limestone blocks—a huge brass star hung on the front. Lush, bright red carpeting cushioned his feet. Pete felt like he should be wearing boots and muttering nasty cracks about J.R.

Some people in the room glanced up as he and Reba came in, but then turned back to their conversations. Two pairs of eyes bored into his chest, however—one pair belonged to Reba’s husband, Billy Kent, who looked like he could buy and sell Pete with his pocket change. The other pair belonged to his mother.

Of the two, Mom’s look was considerably more lethal.

Pete gulped, glancing at Reba’s hand where it rested on his arm. Reba batted her eyelashes again. Terrific timing. I’m not replacing you, Mom, honest!

Cal waved at him. Grinning, of course.

Pete steered Reba politely toward the group, then took up a neutral position between Docia and Cal while Docia busied herself introducing Reba to Mom.

“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Reba gushed. “Cal’s told us so much about you.”

Pete watched his mother’s expression become smooth. She was wearing navy blue pants and jacket with a red, white and blue silk scarf tucked into the collar. She looked a little like a senior officer on a particularly grim cruise boat.

“A pleasure,” she murmured, then straightened her shoulders. “I’ve just been hearing all about the…ceremony from your husband here. I need to firm up the details about the rehearsal dinner before my husband gets here. I’m not sure where we should hold it. I guess this place would do.”

That little pause before “ceremony” was the mark of a master, Pete decided. Mom wasn’t going to say anything openly critical about Texas and/or the wedding extravaganza, but somehow he knew she’d get her point in. She’d fired her opening salvo.

“Hey, bro.” Cal’s voice sounded a little strained. “Did you try the dip? I think there’s some pita chips to go along with it. Lee’s one fantastic cook.”

Mom raised an eyebrow. Pete knew that look. Amateurs. No way she was backing off yet. “I’ve never been to Texas before. I guess it’s always this hot in the summer.” She fanned her face with one hand. “But after all, the wedding will be inside, so the air conditioning will help.”

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