Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Woodbridge, VA, Memorial Day Weekend, 2010
Daphne looked at T. across the steering wheel and center console, tension tugging her skin over the bones until it itched with dry tautness. Tricia, of course, looked as plump and calm as a Buddha, if the Buddha wore hippie skirts. "You sure you want to do this?"
"What on earth are we going to do with a gallon of deviled egg salad, otherwise?"
Daphne sighed, shoulders dropping a half-inch away from her ears. Amazing how just her wife's voice and crooked smile could lower her blood pressure twenty points. "Just--last time didn't go so well."
T. touched her leg lightly, above the knee. "For better or worse," she said, and opened the passenger side door before turning to the back seat to pull out Tiger's carrier.
Brady's lawn was as dandelion-free and velvet-green as a span of Astroturf, and Daphne would have had to get down on her hands and knees and dig her fingers between the stalks to feel dirt to be sure it wasn't. She could already hear voices in the back; they were slightly late, and it had been her fault for stalling. Now that perfect turf sprang back after every footstep as they crossed the side yard.
"I don't know how he does it," she muttered.
T. shot her a sly grin. "It's a bourgeois lawn. Proves you either have the money or the leisure to maintain it. Status marker."
"So it's like a bowerbird's bower?"
T. winked and dropped her voice as they came around the corner of the house. "Exactly. Only less blue tinfoil."
"We could buy him a gazing ball."
They walked in on a pocket-sized carnival. From the cars and motorcycles out front, Daphne had known that everybody except Reyes was already here, but it was still kind of an extended-family shock to see them all in the same place, with shorts and t-shirts on. Chaz was over by the badminton net with Bekk Falkner, playing doubles against Lau and Deborah.
"Unfair height advantage," T. muttered, a moment before Lau spiked it over the net and Chaz face-planted trying to return.
The adult Falkners were on the deck, Ben slicing a watermelon the size of a school bus and Esther sipping a Lau-special Long Island Iced Tea--identifiable from a distance by the coils of dry ice vapor bubbling out of it every time she moved the glass. Beside them sat a dark-haired woman that Daphne did not recognize from the back until she turned her head to say something to Mehitabel Percy.
"Chaz, you sneak."
"He didn't mention Marti was coming?"
Daphne shook her head. "Now I know where he's been all weekend." The pressure-treated step creaked under Daphne's foot. She shook her head and raised her voice. "Marti! What a surprise!"
The Las Vegas Metro officer rose, holding a glass of red wine out wide and picking her way over legs to hug Daphne one-armed, around the egg salad bowl. "It was supposed to be, hot stuff," she said, and added an extra squeeze for T. "Oh my god, wait until you see the kitchen."
"That's why we call it the WTF BBQ," Daphne said. "Chaz was threatening duck breasts. Did he deliver?"
"That's not the half of it," Marti said. "Here, let me get the door for you guys."
"Hey," T. said to Esther Falkner. "Can you watch the bunny for a minute? He won't be any problem at all."
"Bunny?" Esther said.
"His name is Tiger--"
Daphne nodded to Mehitabel--no Duke in evidence--and the Falkners on the way past. Ben looked like he was going to jump away from the watermelon and get the door, but Marti beat him to it.
The breakfast bar looked about like it always did on such occasions, all but swaybacked under the food. Behind it, Duke in an apron strung onion chunks and cubed meat on kebabs, and a six-footer with dark hair and cheekbones Daphne wanted to touch to be sure they were real was rolling up a roast spread with herbed butter.
"Hey," he said. "You must be the Andreoli-Worths." His accent made Daphne think of Democratic senators and yachting clubs. "I'm Gray. I'd shake, but I'm up to my eyebrows in butter."
"Yum," Tricia said, and bumped Daphne with her shoulder when Daphne choked.
Daphne put the egg salad down hastily and covered her mouth with her hands, turning away to cough.
Damn, she thought. Those are going to be some good-looking babies. The thought brought with it a paralyzing spike of pain, because Hafidha wasn't here, and it should have been Hafidha she delivered the killer line to, via telepathy and Significant Eyebrows.
"Sorry," she said, straightening up to four sets of concerned eyes. "Just swallowed my tongue. Where's Brady?"
"In the wine cellar," Gray said, jerking his chin at the door to the garage. "Fetching a case of Chateau Neuf du Pape."
The door opened, pushed before Brady's broad shoulder. He had a case of Coors balanced on one hip and a nervous rictus passing for a grin. "Hey," he said.
"Hey," Daphne said back. "Looks like a good party."
"Couldn't be otherwise." He skated behind Gray and Sol and opened the fridge. "You want anything while I'm in here?"
"Ice cubes for a G&T?" Tricia asked.
"They're already in the cooler thing on the liquor cabinet," he said. "Help yourself."
"What do you need carried out?" Daphne asked, as T. turned away.
Todd extended the platter of kebabs. "Tell Villette his reprieve is up. The grill should be hot."
"He's playing with the kids," Daphne said. "I can lay 'em on a grill and turn 'em, if that's all it takes."
"Little girl all grown up," Todd said, with an exaggerated sniffle. "There'll be another batch in ten."
"On it," Daphne said, and slipped outside into a beautiful day, Marti on her heels with the tongs.
Esther Falkner had a spotted rabbit on her lap, shedding white and black fur all over her navy blue shorts. Tiger was pressing against her scritching fingers, a blissful expression on his little rabbity face--which meant, more or less, that he only looked mildly disapproving.
Mehitabel was shaking her head, one hand extended like Vanna White, paused in whatever she was saying for a guilty glance at the door before continuing, "Oh, the difference is that Thompson was a reporter who hung around with bikers for a year or so. Sol was a biker who made his beer money writing, until he got too old for the scene. You should have seen him, though. Skinny little thing in ripped up jeans and steel toe boots, always some kind of road rash or busted bone--you know that Bonnie Raitt song?"
As Daphne opened the grill lid, Mehitabel started clapping her hands and sing-songed, "Stop at the Mo-bil, pump up the flat wheel--"
"Oh!" Ben said. "'Papa Come Quick.' I love that song. Yeah--" his turn for a guilty kitchenwards glance "--I can see it."
Daphne could too, which was why she pressed her lips together to hide the grin and didn't turn around as Marti did a little shoulder dance and picked up the chorus from the top, tapping her toes on the deck.
"Hah!" Mehitabel said, and joined in. She had a good voice, strong and rough around the edges, not much range but the song didn't demand it. Ben started clapping his hands and when the chorus ended, he came in with the lyrics--just as the sliding door opened. Gray edged through, balancing his rolled and tied roast on a doubled paper plate. "Got room for--oh, music?"
"Got it," Daphne said. She took the plates off his hand and made space on the cooler side of the grill for the roast, ensuring it had good contact before she closed the lid.
"Hold that thought." Gray vanished back inside, leaving the sliding door wide.
By the time Mehitabel and Ben had made it back through the chorus, he reappeared, carrying a beat-up old Epiphone that looked like a junk shop prize by the neck. The possessive way he stroked the steel strings as he settled down on an open chair, however, said a lot about how the face of the guitar had acquired those scars.
He's had it since college, Daphne thought, missing her saxophone fiercely. And he's keeping it at Danny's place?
It was in tune, and by the second verse he'd picked up a simple riff and was following Mehitabel and Ben while they stamped and chanted. Esther Falkner kept time with the hand that wasn't holding the bunny, and against the railing, Marti and T. clapped and, shoulder-to-shoulder, swayed.
Steps rattled up the porch stair, and suddenly Chaz was on Daphne's right, eerie music floating about him as he laid down an ocarina line on his iPhone. On the stair behind him, Lau and the Falkner kids swayed and fake belly-danced. Daphne laughed, and kept laughing, as Chaz turned in place and shook his body in time.
The open sliding door filled with Brady, Todd a little behind and to one side, and Daphne would have had to be something other than a behavioral analyst to miss the way his face smoothed out and his gaze hit Gray's bent head and stuck.
She looked away. T., watching her, smiled.
The song ended with a riff and a flourish, a couple of the clappers hanging on until the bitter end. Gray looked up, caught Chaz's eye as Chaz lowered the AOP, and grinned. "You can be my Art Garfunkle any time."
"Dirty," Danny said. "Now play 'Ain't Misbehavin'.'" It must have been a joke, because Gray laughed so hard he draped himself over his guitar, gasping.
"Figures," Reyes said from behind a wall of Brady. "I would miss all the fun."
"Thank God you're here," Lau said from the stairs. "I was starting to think I was the only single person in the world."
"Well," said Reyes. "I thought about bringing a date. But Victor said he had to wash his hair."