Just Kiss Me

Read the Excerpt

Macy Jane Rocket looked up from a bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne-- rose of course. "If everyone who RSVP'd makes it today," she said while wearing pink from hat to heels, "we'll be quite the fancy group." Macy Jane wore pink from hat to heels to match her house.

“Why wouldn’t everyone make it?” Vivien asked her mother.

“It’s hot as hades. Some of the ladies might just want to stay cool with their bought air.” The cork popped and flew across the bricks to land in a bed of red impatiens. “Did you see that? Your mamaw always said popping corks brought luck. The bigger the pop, the bigger the luck.”

To Vivien, the bigger the pop, the more likely it was you got hit in the head with a flying cork. “How many people did you invite?”

“Twenty, including Nonnie and her boys.”

Vivien reached for a crab puff from a three-tier serving stand. “Why would you invite the Whitley-Shulers?” She carefully bit into the little hors d’oeuvre.

Macy Jane looked up from two champagne glasses. “They’re some of our oldest friends.” She set the bottle next to a silver urn filled with a gorgeous mix of lilies and hydrangea and roses.

“They were never our friends, Momma.”

“Of course they are, sugar.” She shook her head as she poured. “Don’t be silly.”

Sometimes Macy Jane’s stretched the truth until it fit her reality, but she never told a flat-out lie. Lies made baby Jesus cry, and her momma had always been very concerned about landing in a fiery hell for upsetting baby Jesus. Vivien took the flute her mother offered. The smooth crystal cooled her palm. “We worked for them.”

“Oh that.” Macy Jane waved away that tiresome bit of truth with her hand. “We just did a little light house cleaning for pin money. You practically grew up with Henry and Spence.”

Now that was certainly stretching the truth to its snapping point. She’d grown up across the formal lawn of the Shuler mansion. She’d grown up in the converted carriage house, but more than sculpted hedges, fountains, and rose arbors separated the two families. More than money or manners, her last name alone separated her from Henry and Spence. The brick courtyard between them might as well have been an insurmountable brick wall. The boys attended an exclusive boarding school in Georgia. Vivien walked to school fifteen minutes from her front door. Henry and Spence passed the lazy days of summer in the big house in Charleston, or at their granddaddy’s beach home in Hilton Head. They vacationed in Paris France. Vivien spent her summers at public beaches and vacationed at Uncle Richie’s split-level in Paris Texas.

Vivien raised the glass and took a sip. They weren’t friends, yet they weren’t just neighbors, either. They all resided in a weird space that was neither. She’d spoken to the Whitley-Shuler boys a few dozen times. She’d played basketball with Spence once while Henry walked around like he had a stick up his ass.

The bubbly champagne tickled her throat and she lowered her glass. For people who had lived in such close proximity, she could say they knew each other. Although, she certainly knew a lot more about the Whitley-Shuler boys than they did her. She had the kind of knowledge that had come from years of dusting their bedrooms and snooping through their lives. Playing with Henry’s switchblade comb and Spence’s fake barf. She’d touched their pocketknives, read their private letters, and looked at their appalling porn.

“This is good.” Vivien touched the rim of her glass to her mother’s.

“Cheers!”

“Here’s to your Candy-Button house, Momma.”

“I still can’t believe we’re here.” Macy Jane raised the glass to her smiling lips. At fifty, stands of silver streaked the glossy curls of her brunette hair. Today her green eyes were bright and alive, reflecting happiness in her beautiful face. Vivien hoped like hell everyone who’d RSVP’d showed up today so her mother didn’t tailspin. “Remember all the times we dreamed about moving to Rainbow Row, Vivie?”

That dream had been more Macy Jane’s than hers. “I remember.” Her dreams of moving had usually started with buying the Whitley-Shuler house and had ended with her tossing Nonnie out on her skinny ass—Tom-and-Jerry style.

“Is Ms. Whitley-Shuler coming for sure?”

“She said she had a Preservation Society meeting, but she’ll try her best to make it.”

“Hmm.” Vivien took another sip from her fluted glass. That meant Nonnie wasn’t planning to step foot in the row house.

“Mind your manners, Vivien Leigh.”

She lowered her champagne. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Not yet, but I know that look. You’re fixin’ to make an ugly comment about Nonnie.” Macy Jane shook her head. “Jesus doesn’t like ugly.”

There were a lot of things in Macy Jane’s world that Jesus didn’t like. However, Vivien had a suspicion that Jesus liked nasty bitches even less than he liked ugly comments. She reached for a little weeny on a toothpick and said, before she popped it into her mouth, “I sure can’t wait to see our good friends again.” She smiled as she chewed.

If Macy Jane noticed the sarcasm in Vivien’s tone, she chose to ignore it. “Of course the boys can’t make it. Spence is in Italy with his new wife. He married one of Senator Coleman’s girls, you know, and Henry works in some fancy office in New York. He’s a real big shot but took the time to send his regrets. Henry always did have beautiful manners.”

Vivien had been vaguely aware of Spence’s recent wedding, and she wasn’t a bit surprised he’d bagged a Coleman. It would have been more shocking if he hadn’t married into a family with an old name and political ties. She didn’t recall Henry having beautiful manners at all. In fact, she was fairly certain she recalled his appalling manners and she really didn’t care if she ever laid eyes on him again. Not after the horrible condom incident, when she thought Henry might choke her to death.

The horrible incident had taken place fifteen years ago when she’d been thirteen, but she still recalled the fire in his black eyes as if it had happened yesterday.

That summer, Henry had just graduated from his fancy prep school, and he and Spence had spent the summer like always, lazing the days away at Hilton Head. As usual, Vivien spent her summer in Charleston, working in the big house, dusting tables and shelves and massive bedroom furniture.

And, of course, snooping.

The day of the condom incident, she’d popped her latest *NSYNC CD into her Discman, stuffed in her earbuds, and rocked out as she cleaned. She sang along to “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” practiced her dance moves, and brushed the top of Henry’s empire dresser with her feather duster. She’d glanced behind her for good measure, then she slid open the first drawer. Behind a row of socks, she just happened to discover a box of Trojans. The words of her favorite song died on her lips as she took a closer look and read, “Extended pleasure, climax control lubricant.” Whatever that meant, she hadn’t clue. Vivien had pathetically little experience with boys. At least she thought it was pathetic. While *NSYNC sang about the pain tearing up their hearts and souls, Vivien counted six condoms in the box that originally had held a dozen.

Gross.

“What the hell are you doing?” she heard above her music.

A squeaky scream escaped her lips as she spun around. The box of Trojans fell from her hand and her heart pounded boom-boom-boom in her chest. Butt Head Henry stood several feet away, his dark brows lowered over his scary, dark eyes.

She pulled out the earbuds with her free hand and turned off her Discman. “What are you doing home?” He was supposed to be in Hilton Head.

“I live here.” He looked bigger than usual. Taller. His shoulders wider, and he was better-looking than before too. Like her mamaw Roz always said, “He’s as handsome as a wet paint.” Vivien didn’t know what that meant, but if she liked him at all, even a little, she might think of changing his name from Butt Head to Handsome Henry. Only she didn’t like him and he was mad. Real mad. So mad he looked scary. So scary his squinty eyes shined like wet onyx. His cheeks turned a deep red with it, but no matter his anger, Henry was a Southern boy. He’d been raised with manners and morals that would never allow him to hit a girl. Just because he wouldn’t hit her, didn’t mean he wasn’t scary as all get-out.

“What are you doing in my room, Vivien?”

She held up the feather duster. “Cleaning.”

“My underwear?” He developed a worrying little tic at one corner of his mouth.

No, she didn’t fear him physically, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t in trouble. If he ratted her out, she was in deep, deep do-do with her momma. “Your sock drawer, actually,” she corrected him.

He pointed to the box at her feet. “Those were in the back of my sock drawer.”

In the middle, but she thought it best not to quibble. Instead, she looked behind his back to the empty doorway and wondered if she could get around him and make a run for it.

“Does your momma know you snoop?”

The best defense was always a good offence. “Does your momma know you have condoms in your sock drawer?” She slid a bit to her right and figured her best hope for an exit was to distract him until she could get between him and the door. “What does climax control mean?”

The little tic got a little scarier. “Ask Macy Jane when you tell her what you do up here when no one is watching you.”

“I’m not going to tell my momma.”

“Oh, I think you are.” He took a step forward and towered over Vivien.

She shook her head, more scared then she thought possible or wanted to let him know. No way could she tell her momma. She’d get mad then sad and might stay in bed for a week. She might even “take a switch” to Vivien like she always threatened. This time she might actually get around to it. “If you don’t tell on me, I won’t tell on you.”

“No one cares about condoms at my age.” As if to prove he was eighteen, he lifted a hand to scratch the dark stubble on his jaw.

That was probably true. Vivien crossed her arms over her chest and brought out the big guns. “Your momma will care when I tell her about Tracy Lynn Fortner.”

His hand fell to his side and his voice got real low. “What did you say?”

“You heard me.”

He stared at her without blinking. “How do you know about that?”

Years of snooping, of course.

“No one knows about that.”

“Not yet.”

He took a step closer and grabbed her shoulders in his big hands. “You whisper a word about that,” he said through clinched teeth, “and I’ll choke you to death.”

She believed him. His black eyeballs bored holes in her and she tried to swallow past the sudden lump in her throat. She guessed she’d been wrong about him and his manners and could practically feel his hands on her throat.

He shook her. “Do you hear me?”

Her head snapped back.

“If I hear one word about that, I’ll know it came from your mouth.” He shook her one last time and dropped his hands. “I’ll hunt you down like Ole Yeller. Got it?”

“Yes.” The second his grip had eased, she’d run like hell and hadn’t stopped until she was in the carriage house, locked inside her bedroom.