* * *
Soot was a perfect gentleman, and Nancy Janice fell in love with him. Then again, her mother’s very nature was fall-in-love. Everything in her life was “perfect” and “beautiful” and “wonderful.”
Her glass was not just half full. It was overflowing with rose-scented denial. And Anne refused to see her intolerance of the woman as some kind of moral failing.
They had nothing in common and never had—hell, maybe that was why Anne had felt so betrayed when she had learned what kind of man her father really was. Even though Tom, Sr., had passed when she’d found out the truth, she had been prepared to live up to his memory for the rest of her days, to follow the example of bravery and charisma he had seemed to set.
Instead, the curtain had been pulled back on his true character and that had left her with nothing in common with her family. Her brother had already been living his own life and going into the Academy, and as for Nancy Janice? Anne had barely made it through a childhood of being forced to wear dresses and ringlet curls and paten leather shoes.
She’d already been waaaaaaay done with being pigeonholed into a feminine standard she didn’t care about by a woman she did not respect.
“Everything is so neat.” Nancy Janice stood up from petting the dog. “So tidy.”
“You make that sound like a bad thing.” Anne dropped her mother’s fifty-pound overnight bag at the foot of the stairs. “I have to take him out. Come on, Soot.”
“It’s not a bad thing.” Her mother followed the way to the back porch. “It’s just so spare.”
“I don’t see the need to clutter my space up with the Home Shopping Network.”
The way her mother sighed told her that the message had been received as it had been intended: That house Anne and her brother had grown up in had been crammed full of space-saving ideas, knickknacks, fads, and cutesy “moments.”
Nothing like being raised in an infomercial ecosystem.
“Out you go, Soot.” She opened the door and stood to the side. “Go on. G’head.”
Soot stood in between the jambs and eyed the sky with suspicion.
“You want me to go out with you?” Please make me go out with you. “Here, we’ll go together.”
“I’ll make tea,” her mother said. “Where’s your kettle?”
“I don’t have one. I use K-Cups. And I still don’t drink tea.”
“What’s a K-Cup?”
“Don’t worry about it. Help yourself.”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“Come on, Soot.”
Thankfully, the dog decided to commit to a visit to the backyard, and Anne took the opportunity to breathe deep and brace herself for the return. When they came back in, her mother had set out two mugs and was boiling water in a pan.
“Don’t worry, Annie-Banannie, I brought plenty of Celestial Seasonings for the both of us.”
Annie-Banannie. God, she had hated that nickname her entire life. Annie-Banana would have been bad enough, but of course that cutesy end had had to be tacked on, a pink bow on a pink box.
The smile her mother sent over her shoulder was cheerful in a determined kind of way. “It’s for nighttime. For rest.”
Anne grabbed a dish towel and bent down, taking each of Soot’s paws in turn, wiping off the mud. “I told you. I don’t drink tea.”
“Oh. Well, I could make you a coffee? I could—”
“No. Thank you. I don’t need anything.”
“Oh. All right.”
Anne lowered her head. “I’ll sit with you.”
“Oh, I would love that. I’ve missed you.”
Yeah, wow, she’d forgotten how three-quarters of Nancy Janice’s statements started with “Oh”—as if she were constantly shocked by conversation, in spite of the fact that she was a chatter. Then again, she’d been a seen-and-not-heard wife to a flamboyant force of nature. It probably was still as surprise, even after all these years, that anybody listened to her.
It wasn’t Anne’s job to step into the void, however. And giving her mother an opening to speak was like setting off an entire can of Febreze in an enclosed space—and thinking you could keep the flower-fresh stench from your nose by batting the air away from your face.