I laughed, feeling myself calm. "Normally, me, too," I said. "But I spilled my ginger ale all over him."
I'd been mortified. I wasn't usually that clumsy. I was the girl who always checked all angles in the mirror, who showed up ten minutes early, who beat herself up over every small mistake. But Adam had been laid-back about it. So charming. By the end of the flight, I'd completely forgotten my embarrassment and was plotting instead how to make sure he didn't vanish from my world when the plane touched down.
Pia's turn to laugh. "Now that's a good move, honey. I may have to try that myself." She had an air like she couldn't be bothered, though her eyeliner was applied perfectly and she kept twisting her bracelets to make sure the jewels were on top of her wrist for all to see.
"Please do not go dumping your wine in poor men's laps all over town," Bettina said.
Kendra McCaul was the only one who hadn't spoken. I couldn't read the look on her face, but when she shifted, the gym lights glinted off a pin affixed to her scarf. It was the shape of a leaf, shiny green enamel with tiny jewels embedded along one side.
"So, is Adam your second marriage, then?" Bettina again.
"Bettina!" Alice swiped at her arm, then rolled her eyes at me. "Ignore her. She's nosy."
This assessment didn't seem to bother Bettina. "It's not like I'm Maggie Lewis and it's going to end up on the six o'clock news," she murmured.
The four of them cracked up—clearly an inside joke. I glanced over my shoulder at Georgeann behind the drink table. She'd knocked over a cup of Coke and was trying to mop up the mess.
I'd been a Georgeann all my life. The self-conscious introvert whose mother was always pushing her to fit in despite not having the right clothes or the right hair or the right name. Who had to work twice as hard only to settle for good enough.
Starting now, starting here, those days would be over.
"This is my first marriage, actually," I said, making sure to stand up as straight as the others. Don't hunch, Theresa Ann, my mother would say. Makes you look weak. "I raised Lily on my own."
Alice gave a sympathetic smile. "I can imagine that was hard."
I shrugged. My response in this scenario was always to downplay. "It is what it is." I spread my arms out wide. "But we're here now, so...happily-ever-after?"
The conversation dead-ended there.
I checked the time. Adam would be making quick remarks in a few minutes anyway. "If you'll excuse me, I've got to—"
"Well, you are the star of the show." Kendra finally spoke, and her voice was catlike, a smooth and low purr. She pursed her lips, which were stained a shiny plum color so dark it was almost black. There was a look in her eyes that I recognized, had seen before in colleagues, classmates, friends, reminding me I needed to prove my worth. A reminder it wouldn't be so easy to press myself into this life like dough into a cookie cutter.
I slipped away to the bathroom. The harsh lighting made me seem tired. I took a few deep breaths, powdered my face. In a stall, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through Facebook. Someone from Woodard had already posted a photo of Adam and me in the gymnasium. "Please extend a warm welcome to Woodard's new principal, Adam Wallace, and his wife, Teresa." They'd spelled my name wrong and caught me in a grimace, gripping someone's hand, my necklace askew.
But we'd done it. We'd shaken the snow globe, and once the flurry of flakes descended, what would be left was our grand four-bedroom, four-bathroom, two-car garage, screened-in porch dream at the top of a cul-de-sac, snug as a bug in a rug. And the three of us, together and happy.
I'd make sure of it.
So it hadn't come without a cost, without risk.
So I'd had to call in a favor.
We deserved it.
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
Monday, October 4th, we begin the book Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge.