Wedding Bell Blues

By: Meg Benjamin

Right. Tell that to Maureen Amundson, who had lost hearing in one ear and risked losing an eye for a couple of weeks before the doctors had been able to repair the damage to her cornea. Bo Amundson had been nothing if not thorough.

Pete was going to make sure Bo Amundson spent a significant portion of the rest of his life in the slammer. He’d promised Maureen. He stared at the cell phone again. Maybe he should just call the clerk to make sure that the trial date hadn’t been changed.

Enough, already. Pete sighed in disgust. He was supposed to be relaxing in Texas, letting his stress levels drop out of the stratosphere, being his brother’s best man. He might even take the time today to figure out what a best man was supposed to do. Must be a somewhere.

On the other hand, he was sure his mother could tell him what a best man was supposed to do. In detail. And she undoubtedly would as soon as she saw him.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and grabbed a banana, then climbed out onto the fire escape to eat. Docia’s backyard spread out below him, a solid expanse of grass and live oaks reaching to the stone wall around the edge. Pete leaned back against the window sill, letting one foot dangle over the side of the fire escape. He had to admit, Konigsburg had its points.

The neighbor kids played touch football in their own back yard across the alley. After a few minutes Pete heard the littlest complaining about fairness in a high-pitched, grade-school voice. Another kid, clearly the big brother, grabbed the boy’s shoulder, and Pete’s gut clenched. Then the smaller boy was running across the yard as his big brother stepped back to pass him a bright green football.

Pete relaxed against the window sill again, listening to the sounds of cars moving along Main Street and the kids screeching in victory.

After a few minutes, he saw a woman walk down the sidewalk beside the yards, turning to wave to the children as they ran by. Pete caught a quick glimpse of her face as she turned back again—Janie Dupree.

As if she were suddenly aware of him, she looked up to the fire escape, shading her eyes with her hand. “Good morning,” she called.

Pete nodded. “Hi.” On an impulse, he raised his cup. “Want some coffee?”

She shook her head. “No, thanks. I’ve got to open the shop.” She smiled uncertainly, her sunny face puckering slightly.

“I’ll give you a hand.” Pete pushed up from the fire escape and ducked through the window.

He heard Janie say something that sounded like “Thanks anyway,” but he ignored it. How hard could opening a bookstore be? And almost by definition, he had nothing better to do. Might as well make himself useful again. It certainly beat sitting around not checking his e-mail.

Janie had unlocked the front door by the time he’d climbed down the inside stairs and walked into the shop through the storeroom. He peered around the shop space. Six-foot-high bookcases stretched toward the pressed tin ceiling overhead. “What do you need done?” he asked.

“You can move that display case.” Janie nodded toward a row of shelves where a large cardboard display loaded with paperbacks nearly blocked the aisle. “Put it over there against the wall.”

He hoisted the surprisingly heavy cardboard display and staggered toward the side. “Look, I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot last night.” He pushed the display against the wall, then turned to look back at her, dusting his hands on his knees. “I guess I was out of line.”

Janie regarded him with one raised eyebrow. “You guess?” Her lips were pursed again. She had a perfect cupid’s bow mouth, a sharply angled upper lip over a full, almost pouting lower one. Nice.

He shrugged. “Okay, I was totally out of line. I’m sorry.”

The corners of her mouth trembled, as if she was fighting a smile. Oh well, maybe he didn’t deserve one. Her short, dark hair was slightly mussed from the breeze outside, falling over her eyebrows, almost like feathers. Her eyes, the same dark color as her hair, tipped up at the ends.

“Dupree.” He narrowed his eyes. “From Louisiana?”

Janie nodded. “My daddy was a Cajun from Baton Rouge. Mama’s from here, though, so I’m only half coonass.”

Pete blinked at her, and she grinned, her full lower lip spreading deliciously.

“It’s okay for me to say ‘coonass’, but nobody else. One of those things, you know? And by the way, my mom would die if she knew I said that to you.” She turned back to the cash register, placing bills in the tray.

He nodded, only half listening. Why hadn’t he noticed those eyes until now, to say nothing of those lips? Usually he was more observant than that. Was that what overwork did to you?

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