Between Sisters Page 27

It was a photograph of Claire and Meghann, taken long ago. In it, they were kids—maybe seven and fourteen—sitting at the end of a dock with their arms looped around each other. In the corner, a glowing cigarette tip identified Mama as the photographer.

Surprisingly, Claire found that it hurt to see them this way. She glanced over at Meg, who was busily dividing up the food.

She put the photograph back and kept moving through her sister’s condo. She saw the white-on-white bedroom that only a woman without pets or children would possibly choose and the bathroom that contained more beauty products than the cosmetics counter at Rite Aid. All the while, Claire found herself thinking that something was wrong.

She made her way back to the kitchen.

Meg handed her a margarita in a frosted glass. “On the rocks. No salt. Is that okay?”

“Perfect. Your home is gorgeous.”

“Home.” Meg laughed. “That’s funny. I never think of it that way, but it is, of course. Thanks.”

That was it. This wasn’t a home. It was a really nice hotel suite. Definitely four-star, but cold. Impersonal. “Did you decorate it yourself?”

“You’re kidding, right? The last thing I chose for myself was the wedding gown with parachute sleeves. I hired a decorator. German woman who didn’t speak English.” She set out the plates. “Here. Let’s eat out on the deck.” She carried her plate and drink outside. “We’ll have to sit on the floor. The decorator chose the most uncomfortable outdoor furniture in the world. I returned it all and haven’t found the time to buy new stuff.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Seven years.”

Claire followed her sister outside. It was a beautiful night. Stars everywhere.

As they ate, silence fell between them. Meg said a few odd, awkward things, clearly designed to break the quiet, but like seawater in a rising tide, the silence always returned.

“Did I thank you for the gown?”

“Yes. And you’re welcome.” Meg put her empty plate down on the deck and leaned back.

“It’s funny,” Claire said. “It’s loud out here at night—between the traffic and the ferry horns and the railroad, but it still feels . . . empty. Kind of lonely.”

“The city can be that way.”

Claire looked at Meghann and, for once, she didn’t see the harsh, judgmental older sister who was always right. Neither did she see the older sister who’d once loved her so completely. Now, she saw a pale, rarely smiling woman who seemed to have no life apart from work. A lonely woman who’d had her heart broken long ago and now wouldn’t allow herself to believe in love.

She couldn’t help remembering the old days, when they’d been best friends. For the first time in years, she wondered if that could happen again. If so, one of them would have to make the first move.

Claire took a chance. “Maybe you’d like to come stay at my house for a few nights, while you’re planning the wedding.”

“Really?” Meghann looked up, obviously surprised.

“You’re probably too busy.”

“No, actually. I’m . . . between cases right now. And I do need to spend some time in Hayden. Getting stuff ready, you know. I have a meeting there tomorrow, in fact. With the wedding consultant. But I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

Big mistake, Claire. Incredible Hulk big. “It’s settled, then. You’ll spend a few nights at my house.”


MEGHANN PARKED THE CAR AND STEPPED OUT ONTO THE curb. She checked her instructions again, then looked up the street.

Hayden shimmered in the warm, lemony sunlight. People drifted across the street and along the boardwalks, gathering now and then in gossipy circles, waving to one another as they moved on.

Across the street, standing all by herself, was a magenta-haired teenager wearing pants that would have been big on Shaquille O’Neal.

Meghann knew how that girl felt, the outsider in this pretty little town. The girl who didn’t fit in. Trailer parks, Meghann had learned early on, were always on the wrong side of the tracks, regardless of where they’d been built. And when your clothes were wrong and your address was even worse, you were always treated like a slut, whether you were or not. Sooner or later—and with Meghann, it had been sooner—you gave in and started being what everyone already thought you were.

No wonder Mama had never stopped in towns like Hayden. One tavern and four churches? I think we’ll pass this burg right on by. She liked the kind of place where nobody knew your name . . . where nobody knew how to find you when you snuck off in the middle of the night, with three months’ back rent due.

Meghann walked two blocks, then turned right on Azalea Street.

Her destination was easy to spot: a narrow Victorian house painted canary yellow with purple trim. A sign hung askew on the white picket fence out front: Royal Event Planning. There were glittery roses all around the pink letters.

Meghann almost kept walking. There was no way that someone who painted with glittery paint could plan a classy wedding.

But it was Claire’s day, and she wanted a small, casual wedding.

Do you hear me, Meg? I mean it.

Claire had said it three times last night and twice this morning.

What, no swing bands or ice sculptures? she’d teased.

Ice sculptures? I hope you’re kidding. I mean it, Meg. Simple is the adjective you should remember. We don’t need it catered, either. Everyone will bring something to eat.

Meghann had drawn the line there. It’s a wedding, not a funeral, and while I see certain similarities in the two events, I am not—repeat not—going to let you have a potluck wedding.


Hot dogs wrapped in Kraft cheese and pink Jell-O in wedding-ring molds? She shuddered. I don’t think so.

Meg, Claire had said, you’re being you again.

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Okay. I’m a lawyer. I can compromise. The food will be casual.

And the reception has to be outside.

Outside. Where it rains? Where bugs breed? That outside?

Claire had been smiling by then. Outside. In Hayden, she added.

It’s a good thing you mentioned that. I might have accidentally booked the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. It is beautiful there. And not a horrible drive, she’d added hopefully.


Okay. But a bird will probably crap on your head during the ceremony.

Claire had laughed, then sobered. You don’t have to do this, you know. Really. It’s a lot of work to have a wedding ready in nine days.

Meg knew Claire didn’t really want her planning this, and that knowledge stung. As with all opposition, it strengthened her resolve to do a great job. I have a meeting in town, so I’d better run. As Meg started to leave, Claire had said, Don’t forget the bridal shower. Tomorrow night at Gina’s.

Meghann had forced herself to keep smiling. A “couples’ ” shower. No doubt she’d be the only single woman in the room besides Gina.

What fun.

She unlatched the picket gate and stepped into a surreal Candy Land yard, half expecting Pee-wee Herman and his pals to jump out at her. A green Astro Turf walkway led her to the porch steps, which sagged beneath her weight. At the salmon-pink door, she knocked.

The door started to open, then thunked into something. A voice cursed thickly, “Damn door.”

This time the door opened all the way.

An old woman with pink hair sat in a motorized wheelchair, a canister of oxygen beside her. Clear tubes slipped into each nostril, rode across her high, hollow cheekbones, and tucked behind her ears.

“Am I supposed to guess?” she said, frowning.

“Excuse me?”

“What you want, for Henry’s sake. You knocked on the damn door, dintcha?”

“Oh. I’m here to see the event coordinator.”

“That’s me. Whaddaya want? Male strippers?”

“Now, Grandma,” came a thin male voice from the other room. “You know you retired twenty years ago.”

The woman backed up, spun her wheelchair around, and headed away. “Erica is in trouble. I better go.”

“Forgive Granny,” said the tall man who came to the door. He had curly bottle-blond hair and a California-dark tan. His glasses were heavy and black-rimmed. He wore skintight black leather pants and a teal green muscle-shirt, which showed off scarecrow-thin arms. “She has a little memory loss now and then. You must be Meghann Dontess. I’m Roy Royal.”

She tried not to smile.

“Go ahead, have a good laugh. I’m just lucky my middle name isn’t Al.” He swung one hip out, planted a hand on it. “Those are some pretty sharp clothes, Ms. Dontess. We don’t see much Marc Jacobs in Hayden. Our labels of choice are Levi’s and Wrangler. I can’t imagine what brings you here.”

“I’m Claire Cavenaugh’s sister. I’m here to plan her wedding.”

He actually jumped into the air and screeched. “Claire! All right, girl! Well, let’s get going. Only the best for Claire.” He ushered her into the sitting room, toward a pink velvet settee. “Wedding at the Episcopal Church, of course. Reception at the Moose Lodge, catering by the Chuck Wagon. We can get tons of silk flowers from Target. Then they can be reused.”

Meg thought, Simple and casual, simple and casual.

She couldn’t do it. “Wait.”

Roy stopped in mid-excited-utterance. “Yes.”

“That’s a wedding in Hayden, huh?”

“Top drawer. Only Missy Henshaw’s was better, and she sprang for the clubhouse at the golf course in Monroe.” He leaned forward. “They had champagne, not just beer.”

“And what does a wedding cost around here?”

“Not like Missy’s, but a good, solid event? Say . . . two thousand dollars.” He looked at her. “Maybe a little less if one of the community college kids takes the photos.”

Meg was the one who leaned forward now. “Do you read People magazine, Roy? Or In Style?”

He laughed. “Are you kidding? Cover to cover.”

“So you know what a celebrity wedding is like. Especially the kind they call ‘simple and elegant.’ ”

He waved his hand in the air, snapped his fingers. “Are you kidding, honey? Denise Richard’s wedding was supposedly simple and they had enough fresh flowers to cover a Rose Parade float. Simple in Hollywood just means really, really expensive but no bridesmaids and an outdoor reception.”

“Can you keep a secret, Roy?”

“I stayed in the closet during the Reagan years. Believe me, honey, these lips know when to close.”

“I want the kind of wedding this town has never seen. But—and this is important—no one but you and I can know that it’s a big deal. You have to master the phrase It was on sale. Deal?”

“No kidding,” he grinned and clapped. “What’s your budget?”

“Perfection. Every little girl’s dream.”

“In other words—”

“Money isn’t something we should worry about.”

He shook his head, still smiling. “Honey, that’s a sentence I’ve never heard before. I do believe you’re the best-looking woman I’ve ever seen.” He reached out to the coffee table and grabbed a copy of Bride’s magazine. “We should start with the gown. It’s—”

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