"Probably. But she needs to vent to somebody or she'll pop. It's our duty to annoy her enough to let it out." Sherri was always practical, down–to–earth and fearless. And she would probably need all of those characteristics to deal with their BFF today. She turned off the ignition and reached into the backseat to get the bag she'd brought. She turned to Alexis with a face of determination. "Let's get it over with. Emily's had her panties in a knot for weeks, and it's past time that we find out why. Get out of the car."
Alexis frowned. "If she wanted us to know what's been bothering her, she'd have told us. She's entitled to her privacy," she pointed out.
"Get out of the car. She doesn't need privacy, she needs her girls. Out!''
They finally made it to the green front door of the cottage. It was a perfect little jewel of a house. Emily had done almost all the renovation work herself, and the results were spectacular. Alexis looked ready to bolt, but Sherri grabbed her arm with one hand while she rang the bell with the other. "Girl, if you make me drop this bottle of wine, I will hurt you," she threatened.
Luckily, Emily answered the door before mayhem could ensue. She had been exercising from the looks of her; she was wearing workout clothes that bore large sweat patterns around the neck and the armpits, and she was wiping more sweat from her face. "What a surprise," she said dryly. "So what is this, an intervention?"
Sherri sucked her teeth. "Yes, it is. And it wouldn't be necessary if you would just confide in your best friends like a normal woman. Move out of the way so we can come in before we drop this stuff."
Emily didn't budge. "What stuff? Is it edible?"
Alexis nodded vigorously. "We brought you dinner, and it's hella good." Emily moved out of the doorway so they could enter the house. As
Alexis walked past her, she whispered, "Sherri made me ambush you. This was all her idea."
Sadly, Alexis had never really learned how to whisper, so Sherri heard every word. "I'll get you later. In the meantime, let's eat," Sherri said cheerfully. "We'll set the table while you go shower, Miss Emily."
"Fine, if you're gonna gang up on me," Emily mumbled, but she really didn't sound angry. She actually sounded a little relieved, but only someone who knew her very well would have noticed.
In a short time the ladies were sitting at the table in the breakfast room off Emily's kitchen. It was spotless, as was every room of the house. The walls were pale green, matching the green–and–white ceramic tile floor. All the trim was black, matching the black and stainless steel appliances and the black table and chairs. The chairs had seats covered in green–and–white–patterned fabric that matched the café curtains in the windows that surrounded the seating area.
"What are we eating?" Emily asked. "Not that I care, of course. You know I'll eat anything."
"I brought some chicken salad and rolls and brownies," Alexis told her.
"Brought out the big guns, huh? You're really trying to make me talk, aren't you?" Emily put a big helping of salad on her plate and took two
of the crusty homemade rolls. Alexis made astounding chicken salad, and Emily could never get enough of it.
Sherri poured her a glass of pinot grigio. "Yes, this is a bribe. It's come to that, Em. You've been acting like a different person since you took that trip to Hilton Head in September and we want to know why. You have been avoiding us, and when we do manage to get in touch with you, you're in a nasty–ass mood, the one that scares most people off. We've been friends since grade school, and you can't scare us off," she said. "But there has to be a good explanation for your errant behavior, and we want to know what it is. Time for you to share, sister."
Emily looked at Sherri and then at Alexis. The three of them had been friends forever. They were really the only people she was close to, outside of her family. All of them were pretty, but they couldn't have been more dissimilar. Emily was tall and bronze, with long, thick black hair that she never did anything to, other than keep it clean. She was in perfect shape, thanks to years of yoga, cycling and karate. Nothing fussy or girlish about her, but she was a very busy woman. Head of the biochemistry department at University of South Carolina, her schedule was loaded with academics as well as community service. She had too much
on her plate to mess around with cosmetics—at least that was her excuse.
Alexis, on the other hand, was petite with chocolate–brown skin, and her hair was always chic. Since she was a much sought–after cosmetologist, her hair was her advertisement; it had better be fly. Sherri was even taller than Emily and very striking. She was very fair–skinned with short red hair, and she was always fashionably attired even though she was as busy as Emily, if not busier. She was a doctor with a practice in family medicine, and she was also a single mother. But she would still take the time to put on a little makeup and some jewelry, two things that Emily ignored. Despite their differences in appearance and demeanor, they were truly close and always would be. When good things happened to them they celebrated, and when bad things happened they commiserated. What they didn't do was hold out on each other the way Emily was doing.
"You know we're not just being nosy," Alexis said. "Well, Sherri is, you know what a busybody she is. I'm truly concerned about you, sweetie." Her pious tone ended in a shriek as Sherri pinched her arm.
Emily was considerably mellower after her delicious dinner. "Look, if it's gonna keep you two from maiming each other, I will tell you why I've been in such a pissy mood for the last month. As
you already know, I went to Hilton Head the week after my summer science camp. But what you don't know is I had some company while I was there."
"Who?" Alexis and Sherri spoke in unison with wide eyes.
"This will go faster if you don't interrupt. And might I add you look like owls when you do that? Okay, so this is what happened," she drawled.
Hilton Head Island
It was a perfect fall day. The SUV was humming along the road, the sky was cloudless and blue and the music was blasting from the speakers. Todd Wainwright was feeling more relaxed than he had in months. When he saw the bright blue mailbox that was his landmark, he turned into the driveway. It was a long driveway that went up a slight incline, and there was a big barnlike garage at the end. He chose not to explore the garage, stopping instead next to the house, where he turned off the
ignition and tried to stretch. The drive from Chicago had taken hours, and his long limbs were feeling the strain. He got out of the Expedition so he could get the kinks out of his body and take a look around at the same time.
The house was everything he was told it would be. It was beautiful, spacious, secluded and near the water. The house sat far back from the road and was surrounded by trees, mostly pine. He removed his sunglasses and took in a deep breath of the enticing scent of the sea and the fragrant scent of evergreen. For once he had listened to his friends and family back in Illinois, and he was glad he had. It was his brother's idea that he take some time off. It was his sister–in–law's notion that he needed to go out of town and his friend Ayanna had given him the keys to her family's vacation home on Hilton Head Island.
"You'll love it down there," she'd assured him. "Daddy was an architect and he not only designed the house, he built it himself. It's right on the beach, and it's kinda secluded so you'll get some rest and relaxation. My mother is in Africa right now and my sister Emily is off with her youth camp, so you can run around naked all day if you want to," she had teased him.
Todd had laughed and said he might just do that. Now, as he looked at the greenery surrounding the modern but rustic–looking home that awaited
him, he grinned. Maybe running around without clothes was a possibility. The stitches were out and there was no reason to stay covered up anymore. Besides, Ayanna had said something about an outdoor hot tub that had sounded pretty good. He didn't bother to get his bags. He decided to take a look around and get his bearings first.
The exterior had a porch that extended around three sides. In the back there was a deck with a broad overhang that protected the hot tub Ayanna had mentioned. Todd had mounted the stairs and was standing on the deck when he realized the back door was open. The screen door was closed and locked, but the wood–and–glass door that opened into the kitchen was wide open. He sorted through the keys on the ring he was holding and found one that was labeled for the kitchen screen door. He opened the door and stepped into the kitchen, announcing himself so that he didn't scare whoever was in the house.
"This is Todd Wainwright, a friend of the family. I'm invited to use the house so I have keys," he said in his low, mellow voice.