Until There Was You

Page 12


“No, Dad. I won’t. But I’ll call you once, okay?”
“Every half hour. Text or call. It’s reasonable.”
“It’s insane. I’ll text you twice and call you once. And I’ll call you before ten tomorrow morning and let you know when I’m coming home.”
“You’ll text me four times and call me four times.”
“Three texts, two calls. That’s my final offer. Otherwise, I may lose this cell phone.”
Liam grinned and kissed his daughter’s head. “You lose that cell phone, and I’ll have the police at the Graftons’ house so fast you won’t know what hit you.”
“That’d be funny, except it’s so tragically true.” She smiled up at him. “So I can go, right?”
“Yeah. If you want your old man to go off to a party all by himself and have no one to talk to, you can go.”
Nicole opened the fridge and took out an apple. “You won’t be going alone. Mrs. Antonelli’s going, too. I told her you’d take her.”
“Wow. Thanks. She’s definitely my type. Some people think the over-eighty crowd is past their prime, but not me.”
“Dad, gross, okay?” She took a bite of her apple and gave him a critical scan. Time was, she used to come running to meet him, jump into his arms and want to do nothing more than snuggle against his shoulder. He reached out now, touched a strand of her pretty hair. She gave him a distracted smile, then tucked the strand behind her ear.
“Is the cute boy going to the party?” Liam asked, bracing for the answer.
Nicole shrugged, but her cheeks turned pink. “He was invited.”
“And does he have a name?”
“Tanner. Tanner Talcott.” What a stupid name. A pretty-boy name, a boy-band name, the name of a boy who knew how to get a girl to do things that would give her father cardiac arrest. “Tanner Talcott. Well, listen, sweetheart. Boys only want one thing, of course, and guess what that means for you? Heartbreak. Pregnancy. Chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, crabs.”
“That’s beautiful, Dad. You should set it to music.”
“I was a teenage boy once,” he said. “One thing. Sex.”
“Again. So gross.”
“No drinking. No smoking. No drugs. No sex.”
Nicole repeated the phrase, rap-style.
Liam sighed. “Yeah, okay, honey, but if you have any problem—any—you call me, okay? Your dear old dad will always come rescue you.”
She smiled. “I know.” Her phone chimed. “Oh! They’re here!” She ran down the hall and returned with her overnight bag, already packed, and her Cookie Monster stuffed animal, which she slid into a side pocket. She’d slept with Cookie Monster since birth. Good. How much trouble could a girl get into with Cookie watching?
“Don’t obsess, okay, and try to get a life, Dad. Have fun at the party. Talk to people. Smile.” She kissed him on the cheek. “And take a shower. You smell like a locker room.”
Liam walked his daughter down, waved to the Graftons—Bill was a police officer, Leah was an E.R. nurse, so how bad could it get? Then again, George Tate had been a congressman, Louise Tate a gynecologist, and he’d managed to do all sorts of things with their daughter.
Banging his head gently against the wall, Liam wondered, not for the first time and most definitely not for the last, just how the hell he was going to survive his daughter’s adolescence.
“IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE wearing? To a party? In my day, we’d have at least dressed up.”
Posey sighed. “Well, this is dressed up for me, Vivian. But thanks.”
The ancient lady peered through her glasses as if examining human remains, then frowned even more and picked up her iPhone, her arthritic old thumbs tapping out a message. “Why don’t people dress for parties anymore?” Viv muttered. “And…there. Posted on my wall. Is that how you’re wearing your hair, Posey? It doesn’t suit you.”
Self-consciously, Posey reached up and tried to smoosh down the back cowlick, the one that defied even the strongest goo out there. So much for delighting Vivian with her girliness tonight. “Anyway, Viv, I swung by the estate today.”
The old lady’s face softened. “Did you? How does it look?”
Posey smiled. On this, at least, she and Vivian agreed. Viv’s former home was magnificent. “So beautiful. The apple trees are just budding out, and the sun was streaming through the stained-glass in the foyer.”
“You went in the morning, then?” Viv asked wistfully.
“That was my favorite time of day. Just about ten o’clock, the house so quiet, the birds singing. I’d write letters at the little desk in the rose parlor…?.” Her creaky voice trailed off.
Posey took Vivian’s hand in her own. “Why don’t you let me take you out there, Vivian? Might do your soul some good.”
Viv straightened up indignantly, removing her hand. “My soul is none of your concern.”
“True enough,” Posey said. “But I’d love to take you just the same.”
Vivian gave her a cool look. “You’ll be late for your party if you don’t leave now,” she said. “And you may well want to go home to change into a proper dress first.”
“This is as good as it gets,” Posey said. “But you’re right. Can’t put it off any longer.”
“This is the welcome home party for your sister?” Viv asked.
“Cousin. But yes. You sure you don’t want to come? Everyone would be wicked glad to see you.”
“And by everyone, do you mean that chatterbox you employ and the silent man who’s afraid of her?”
“Thank you, no. I have bridge tonight.”
“Roger that. Wish I did, too.” Posey stood up and straightened out her frock. Vivian was probably right…the dress was a little goofy, blue with pink flowers and silly little strings that tied on her shoulders. Plus, it had that smooshy gathered fabric over the chest, and it itched. But it wasn’t easy to find something in her size…especially at the last moment. Stacia had specifically requested that she wear a dress, and so here she was. Itchy and feeling less than beautiful. “Knock ’em dead,” she said, kissing Vivian’s soft and withered cheek.
“We’re all over ninety,” Vivian said. “There’s a high probability of death on any night. If you come back on Monday, I may be ready to sign the salvage rights to you. We’ll see.”
“I come by every Monday,” Posey said. “You don’t have to bribe me.”
“Don’t I?”
“You don’t. See you Monday.”
As she struggled into her truck, Posey sighed. Tonight was the official start of the Barefoot Fraulein taking over as head chef of Guten Tag.
Hard to believe Gret was back. Posey was positive there was a story here—the Barefoot Fraulein living in Posey’s old room? When Posey had asked her plans at dinner last week, Gretchen had been vague. “It’s so good to be back,” she said, squeezing Stacia’s hand. “Why rush me off, right, Auntie?” And Stacia, of course, had clucked her assent as Max nodded.
Posey acknowledged that it would’ve been nice to have had a date for this. The night would’ve felt a lot different if she’d had Dante on her arm, giving her those dark Mediterranean looks he did so well. But she hadn’t had so much as a text since The Talk.
Dang it. She pulled into a parking space and headed toward Guten Tag, catching a glimpse of herself in the windows. She didn’t have girly shoes—well, she had one pair, but the heels were almost fatally high. The boots had looked cute enough at home, but you know, maybe they weren’t working. Steel-toed engineer boots and sundresses…then again, maybe she’d start a trend. It had a certain carefree appeal, right? Maybe? No? She checked her reflection again. It was a no. Ah, well. Too late now.
Guten Tag was mobbed, which was weird enough. A giant banner hung across the front—Guten Tag says Wilkommen to the Barefoot Fraulein, Gretchen Heidelberg! And there was a life-size cutout of Gretchen herself, dressed in traditional German clothing, boobs pushed up almost to her chin.
“Wow,” Posey said as her brother and Jon approached.
“That bra must be made of steel,” Jon said. “That, or they Photoshopped out the two dwarves standing under there, hefting those puppies up.”
Posey laughed. “Having fun, boys?”
“Your brother’s hoping for an amputation to get him out of this.”
“I’m actually hoping for a reattachment,” Henry said, perfectly serious. “I’ve done three amputations this week alone.”
“We have friends here from Boston,” Jon said. “Come! Meet! And, oh, sweetheart, those boots? Why didn’t we call me?”
Jon and Henry’s friends seemed to be having a jolly time. Posey chatted a few minutes, then announced the need for a beverage.
“Posey,” Jon added. “We’re planning to ditch in about an hour and head to Portsmouth for dinner. Want to come?”
Posey grimaced. “Yes. But I can’t. I’m the daughter.”
“You can do it! If Henry can…”
“Well, you know, Henry’s the son. He can do whatever he wants.”
Jon sighed. “Sad, but true. Oh, the curse of the double standard! You sure? You can sneak out. Gretchen won’t notice.”
“No, but Mom and Dad would. That’s okay. It’s fine. You guys have fun.” She patted his arm and headed for the bar, only to bump right into the Barefoot Fraulein herself.
“Posey! I’m so glad you’re here!” Gretchen pounced and, holy Elvis, could she show more boob? More leg? She wore a silky cream-colored scrap of fabric that clung to her curves, most notably the junk in her trunk. “You look so cute!” Gretchen pinched her cheek, and Posey twisted away.
“Gretchen. Don’t you look…pretty.”
“You’re so sweet! Let me introduce someone. Posey, this is Dante Bellini. Dante, this is my little cousin, Posey Osterhagen.”
“We’ve met, Gretchen,” Posey said, her stomach flipping. Dante? In Guten Tag without turning into a pillar of salt?
“Good to see you, Posey.” He smiled, and a little flare of hope fired in her chest. Had he come because he knew she’d be here? “Of course you know each other! I keep forgetting how small a town Bellsford is. I guess I’m still used to New York. Oh, I’m sorry, the reporter from Channel 2 is waving. You two chat, get something to eat, have some tapas. Essen und geniessen! Or, as you might say, Dante, mangia!” She flashed her painfully white teeth and wove through the crowd, leaving Posey and Dante in a cloud of her musky perfume.
Tapas? Since when did German restaurants have tapas?
“How are you?” Dante asked.
“I’m good.” She smiled. “How’ve you been, Dante?”
“Great. I have to say, I didn’t realize you knew her.” Dante’s eyes drifted over to Gretchen, who had seemed to have surgically attached herself to the reporter from Channel 2, laughing and tossing her hair and posing for pictures. “She’s quite a force to be reckoned with.”
“Um…yeah.” That dark Mediterranean look was still on Gretchen…her boobs, specifically. Posey crossed her arms over her chest, which made things itchier, then unfolded them. “I’m a little surprised to see you here, Dante.”
He had the grace to look sheepish. “Well, Gretchen invited me. Said there’s plenty of room for two gourmet restaurants on the same block, no reason to be enemies.” He took a sip of his drink. “I had no idea you were related.”
“Yeah, well, I guess you and I didn’t do too much talking,” Posey said, a trifle sharply.
Dante didn’t bat an eyelash. “You two close?” he asked.
“I guess so. She’s my only cousin.”
Finally, he turned his full attention back to her and gave her a long look, then a smile. “It’s good to see you.”
Much better. “You, too,” she said, feeling the same pull of attraction she’d felt two months ago. Maybe this break was just the thing to get them to move to a real relationship, after all.
“Posey!” Mrs. Schmottlach swooped in and gave Posey a big smooch on the cheek. “You look beautiful!”
“Hi, Mrs. S. Thanks, same to you.”
“Isn’t this so exciting for your parents?” she said. “That Gretchen is a wonder. So pretty, and so talented. Oh, honestly, there’s Bruce. The man can’t be alone for more than ten seconds without wondering if I’ve left him for another man. Bye, sweetie! I love you in a dress!”
Posey turned back to Dante. He was gone. Dang it.
Standing on tiptoe, she could just glimpse Henry, Jon and their friends in a corner, schmoozing and laughing (well, Henry was checking his phone, hoping for a reattachment).
Time for that drink. Posey slipped and slid through the crowd, saying hello here and there, getting a kiss or hug from her parents’ friends, until she made it to the bar, where Otto was on duty. “Hey, there, look at you, in a dress and everything!” he said.
“It happens,” she answered. “How about a whiskey sour, Otto?”
“Coming up!” A minute later, he handed her the drink.
“Thanks, pal.” She slid a ten into his tip jar and sat back to look around. There were a number of waiters she didn’t recognize—college kids, probably—who looked out of place in black jeans and white T-shirts when the regular staff wore the traditional German costumes.