by Laina Villeneuve
Wedding bells are ringing for Kat Morehart—just not her own. When the church she works for refuses to let a gay couple marry in the sanctuary, she aims to make it up to them by offering her home as the perfect venue. It will take an act of faith to pull it off at the historic home she shares with her quirky parents.
Caterer Wendy Archer enjoys the business Kat directs her way and their friendship even more. Though she loves how much Kat cares for others, Wendy has to wonder at times how she fits into Kat’s life.
As they work together to create the perfect setting for the wedding, Kat and Wendy struggle to fight what simmers between them.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"My parents throw amazing parties: simple Fun Fridays, Halloween festivals, birthdays and many, many weddings, thirteen to be exact! Watching the preparation for my niece's wedding, my writer brain started to turn. Setting. Each time my sister talked about helping with the wedding hiring, I started searching for a storyline. Many of my family members have worked for churches, so I brainstormed possibilities with them. Who would the protagonist be? Homeowner or daughter? Are there multiple parties at the house or just one? Out of all the questions, one idea became the seed around which the whole book bloomed. Years ago, my parents invited a gay couple to use their home because they could not get married at their conservative church. Conflict. I knew that my sister could help me build a character who worked at the church. Protagonist. Weddings need food, and my wife worked as a chef years and years ago. Love interest. That's what I start with. I had exactly one scene in mind when I sat down to begin writing, a moment of realization between my protagonist, Kat and her caterer friend Wendy when the gay men are rehearsing their wedding. It's an amazing thing to write by blindly leaping from one scene to another. I truly enjoyed watching this story take shape and hope you fall in love with Kat and Wendy just as I did."
Pin’s Reviews - Family dynamics is important to this story just as much as the relationship dynamics between Kat and another protagonist Wendy Archer, whom I liked a lot. There is a believable conflict there which is derived from differences between them and their upbringing. The story is written from the point of view of both protagonists allowing us to get to know them from both perspectives so we can follow them equally. This and many other elements are done well. I have to mention that I kind of struggled to get into the story, but when I did, it went smoothly to the end. So have patience and I believe it will be worth it. Overall I was quite happy with this book, enjoyed reading it and could easily recommend it.
“Guess who’s getting married!”
Kat looked up to find her favorite couple in her doorway. “Married?” she said. She knew the couple refused to wed until marriage equality was available throughout the United States.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is out, and it’s time to celebrate!” Evan said.
The volunteers in the outer office squealed with delight. Kat joined them and rushed to the pair to give them both a tight squeeze. She had only ever seen them in their Sunday slacks and ties. Seeing them in baggy cords and sweaters made them seem more like friends than parishioners. “I hadn’t heard!” she said.
“The news just broke,” Evan gushed. Years had done nothing to minimize his strong jawline with his cleft chin, and his pale blue eyes shone brightly. “I was still glued to the news report, and this one was already popping the question!”
Jeremy’s salt-and-pepper beard almost hid the smile on his rounder face, but he was clearly emotional when he took Evan’s hand and said, “We have a big anniversary coming up, and we want to talk to Reverend Thorn about making it our wedding day.”
Kat clasped her hands over her heart, a surge of happiness lifting her. A wedding! Even though her own fifteen-year marriage had ended in divorce, weddings still thrilled her to her core. She loved every detail of a couple’s plan for the ceremony and the reception: the music, the food, the favors! While her official duties at Kindred Souls Church did not extend beyond managing the facilities, she got pulled into many of the other details since she had the keys and alarm codes for the buildings. She had worked with so many photographers, florists and caterers that she often knew what couples needed before they did.
The phone rang, and a volunteer reached across the desk to answer it while Jeremy reflected on the Court’s decision. “It’s exciting news for the country,” he started to explain, but emotion tightened his throat. “We’ve been waiting so long for this day.”
The volunteer, phone to her chest, leaned over. “Kat, it’s for you.” Hating to step away from Jeremy and Evan, Kat was about to ask the caller to leave a message. “It’s your mom. She says it’s an emergency.”
Pushing away her irritation, Kat stepped back into her office and picked up the phone. “Mom, this is the church line.”
“I know. You didn’t pick up your cell.”
“What’s the emergency?” Kat groused wondering why her mother couldn’t have had her drama some other time when Kat needed an excuse to get away from the Altar Guild ladies and their fretting over new stains on the linens.
“I’m out of donuts.”
Kat sat at her desk and closed her eyes. She pulled her blond hair over her shoulder and ran the soft ends back and forth over her lips, searching for serenity. She took a deep, even breath.
Her mother, Millie, must have heard her. Resigned, she said, “You’re right, I’ll survive.”
“I can probably make a run between closing the office and bells.”
“Oh, no. You don’t have to do that. I’ll be fine. I can make some sugar toast. I don’t think the bread is that old.”
“I just bought the bread last week.”
“I’ll see you at five twenty,” Kat said. “IfI get my work finished,” she added, disappointed to see that Reverend Thorn was already shaking Jeremy and Evan’s hands and ushering them into his office. She returned to preparing the Sunday bulletin, trying her best to ignore the volunteers’ chatter.
“I don’t think we have enough hangers or bags,” one said.
“Have you seen the huge pile of donations? There’s no way we have enough.”
“Of course it’s much easier to pull in some hangers than it is to pull in volunteers.”
“How about Suzy?”
“Are you kidding? Suzy is such a gossip!”
“Suzy? I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say more than two words.”
“Oh, but she listens. She’s the one who told Reverend Thorn about the Heyman’s daughter.”
Though it was tempting to insert that they were gossips themselves, Kat finished proofing the order of service and printed the final copy. She carried the original from her small office to Verna, the most technologically savvy of the volunteers, to run the copies.
The door of the priest’s office swung open. Reverend Thorn wore the self-satisfied look that always followed an opportunity to explain the Bible. He smoothed his tie, his hand pausing at his soft middle, a disingenuous smile on his pasty face.
Disappointment radiated from the men. They barely glanced up. Kat shot an angry look at the priest’s closing door. “What’s that about?” Kat asked.
“He refuses to marry us,” Evan said. Time had diminished some of the musculature on his tall frame, but he always carried himself with dignity. Now his shoulders slumped forward and the muscles by his jaw rippled as if he was trying not to cry.
“But the law!” Kat exclaimed.
Jeremy wrapped an arm around Evan’s shoulder. “It’s okay. We can go to the courthouse.”
“I want a church wedding,” Evan said. “All these years, I’ve been waiting…” He swallowed hard, fighting tears.
Kat opened her mouth, but no words came. Verna rescued her. “Why won’t he marry you?”
Forming air quotes, Evan lowered his voice and said, “While I recognize your excitement, you have to understand that the Bible forbids such unions.”
Kat tried to bite her tongue but failed. “His interpretation of the Bible. That isn’t the church’s official stance. It’s my understanding they have left it to the discretion of each individual priest.”
Verna nodded vigorously, the reading glasses strung around her neck bouncing against her ample bosom. “Yes, that’s true. My sister’s church in Massachusetts has performed weddings for same-sex couples. But Reverend Thorn takes the Bible very literally. You might have better luck with Reverend Munson. She has a more progressive interpretation. Perhaps she could perform the wedding.”
“We asked about that. He said no same-sex ceremony would take place anywhere on campus.”
“Ceremony?” Kat said. “You’re planning a wedding, not a ceremony.”
Evan threw his arms around her. “Oh, Kat. I knew you would understand. I just knew it. What can we do? I’ve dreamed about our wedding, the garlands, the flowers at the end of each pew. I wanted the organ. The choir. Timpani. I wanted to be Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.”
“She wasn’t Von Trapp until she got married. What was her last name before?” Jeremy asked.
“Don’t try to distract me,” Evan answered.
Jeremy turned pleading eyes on Kat. If she didn’t shut him down, Evan was going to cry. “And handbells?” she offered.
“Of course the handbells. That wonderful peal you do! You’re the sun itself when you swing those bells.”
Kat blushed at the compliment. “Well there you go. The bells are portable, and we’ve provided music at all sorts of venues.”
Jeremy searched Evan’s eyes. “And we could probably still have someone sing?”
“Absolutely!” Kat chimed in. “You could hire a soloist. I know a couple. He plays the harpsichord, and she is a lovely soprano.”
“Keep talking.” Evan sat on the edge of the desk, tilting his chin and closing his eyes.
“So much of what you had planned can be done just about anywhere. Maybe you have a favorite park?”
“We love the Huntington. Or Griffith Park.”
“There’s no way we’re getting one of those in a month,” Jeremy said.
“One month?” Kat asked.
“Next month, we will have been together for fifty years. We want to get married on the anniversary of the day we promised to spend the rest of our lives together. It’s mid-week, so we were sure the church would be free.”
“So you want a place that is grand but private and available in a month.”
“I want a sanctified wedding.” Evan returned to the problem.
Kat shared his disgust at how appallingly Reverend Thorn was treating them. Frankly, she was surprised that he would risk upsetting two of their largest donors. Her mind spun for a solution and stopped on a tenuous alternative. “Have Reverend Munson consecrate a space.”
Some of the sparkle she always saw in Evan’s eyes returned. “She can do that?”
“She declares that people are gathered in the name of the Lord, and it becomes holy ground. Verna’s right. I bet she’d be happy to perform your wedding. Shall we call?”
Jeremy took Evan’s hand. “Would that work for you?”
“Where would we do it?”
“Let’s call Reverend Munson and see if I’m right because I have a spot in mind.”
Kat led them to her office and dialed. She handed Jeremy the phone and linked her arm with Evan’s while they listened. Her grip on Evan’s arm tightened as Jeremy’s smile widened. Finally, he handed back the phone and wrapped his arms around Evan. “She’ll do it!”
Verna whooped from the outer office, and Kat hoped that Reverend Thorn was getting an earful of their shared glee. “Okay! I have the perfect location!”
“Where?” Jeremy asked.
“How about a beautiful historic home with space in the backyard for fifty to a hundred guests?”
“Sounds nice,” Evan said. Kat could still hear resignation in his voice.
“You know Rock Hudson?” She almost laughed out loud at their twin expressions of confusion.
“She asks the man who swoons at anything he’s in,” Jeremy said.
“The former owner of my parents’ house once dated him.”
Evan’s eyes lit up, illuminating the dashing man Kat was accustomed to seeing at church. “How do you know?”
“His handprint is in the cement of the patio. Come check it out and see if you can picture getting married there.”
“An outdoor wedding in March?” Evan sounded doubtful. “What if it rains?”
“It’s Southern California. It never rains. Last year, by mid-March, we were in the high eighties. And Rock Hudson! We have to see this!” Jeremy said.
Kat had suspected she could capture the interest of the retired stage manager with the history of her parents’ house. She glanced at her office. She still had work to do, but then she looked at her boss’s closed door, and fury coursed through her. Their church had no moral right to deny this couple their dream, not when so many sanctioned marriages fell apart. “Let’s go right now. Verna, hold down the fort. We’re going on an adventure!” Kat ducked into her office to grab her purse. She fished out her keys and held them up like bait as she passed the guys. “Ready?”
“You can leave work, just like that?” Jeremy asked, falling in step with her.
“I am working. An important couple in our congregation needs help making their dream wedding come true. As far as I’m concerned, that’s top priority.” She clicked the remote to unlock her car. Though she had initially balked at getting an SUV, she loved its shade of maroon and how the black roof gave it the style of a smaller car.
“How many kids do you have?” Evan asked, peeking inside.
“Just one, but I chauffer him and his friends.” Not lately, she realized. Since the divorce, she could count on one hand the number of times she had driven Travis and his best friend Leo to one of their band events or parkour. Once his father started dating her best friend, Ember, they had completely taken over the drop offs and pickups.
She belted herself in and, out of habit, made sure her passengers did the same before putting the SUV in reverse. She snapped off the sound system before the Trevor Hall CD could engulf the space.
They filled the drive with wedding dreams, Kat’s favorite topic. When she had married at twenty-two, she’d spent half her life planning her own wedding, and nothing pleased her more than working to make someone else’s dream come true.
She took city streets. One, she knew the 101 was a nightmare even in the early afternoon, and two, without detouring she could stop along Ventura at her son’s favorite burger joint and the donut shop her mother liked best. Twenty minutes later, she parked at the bottom of the long drive next to the twin palm trees in the front yard of the house she now called home. She looked at the two-story white Colonial through Jeremy and Evan’s eyes. “You could have the ceremony here in the front yard. Come look.”
They climbed out of the SUV and followed her across neatly manicured grass taking in the grand porch of the almost one-hundred-year-old structure. To the left, steps led to a balcony.
“Whether you have the ceremony here or in the back, you’d have to get a picture of your wedding party from the balcony,” she said.
Evan rested his head against Jeremy’s shoulder. “At our age, it won’t be that big of a gathering.”
Jeremy put his arm around Evan. “You’re the one who told me a party is made up of the people gathered.”
“Come see the back.” She led them past an aviary with parakeets and love birds. A red brick path ran the length of the house.
“It’s magical,” Jeremy whispered under the canopy of towering ficus trees. A fountain gurgled into a basin of smooth black rocks next to a white metal lovers’ bench.
A smile stretched across Kat’s face. She had known they would love it. “Explore the yard, please. Imagine what you can do with the space. I have to get this food inside before the natives get restless.”
She climbed the back-porch steps and pushed the door open with her hip. “Delivery!” The house was quiet. She walked through the kitchen to the stairs. Back in the kitchen, she opened the door to the basement and hollered again, “Delivery!”
From below, she heard her son call, “Coming!” and from above, she heard her mother respond, “I thought that sounded like you in the drive.”
Kat unloaded the food and listened to the footfalls on both sets of stairs. Travis’s lanky frame emerged first. “I paused my game. Do you care if I eat downstairs?”
“No. Not this time.”
“Thanks, Mom!” He kissed her cheek and disappeared.
“Why are there old men creeping around my house?” her mother asked. She leaned her cane on the table and sat, pulling the pink donut box closer.
“They’re not creeping. I have a favor to ask.” She sat across from her mother at the old scarred wooden table. They had spent innumerable hours in this position through many of what she thought of as her mom’s various Barbie editions. She’d been Church-Goin’ Barbie when Kat was a girl. In her teens, Kat enjoyed Athletic Barbie more than Baby-Talk Barbie. Shoppin’ Barbie was fun for the two of them, but not so much when her dad had taken away the credit cards. She now worried about her mother’s significant weight gain with the new Donut-Lovin’ Barbie.
Millie bit into a glazed donut and lifted her eyebrows in question. Her thick white hair was tousled, a result of her advanced gift in napping.
“Reverend Thorn won’t let them get married in the sanctuary, so they’re looking for somewhere to hold their wedding.”
Her mother kept chewing until Kat’s words and the couple’s presence connected for her. “Wait, you want a gay couple to get married here?”
“Is that a problem?”
“It might be for your father.”
Kat paled. “I wasn’t thinking about that at all.”
“Should I tell them no?”
Millie leaned back in her chair, plucking crumbs off her purple shirt. She looked at the men standing in the driveway, bright smiles on their faces. “Could you?”
Kat followed her mother’s gaze. “No.”
“When do they want to do this?”
“In a month.”
Millie set her donut down and picked up a napkin. She slowly wiped each finger. “A month?” she said dubiously.
“I know it’s a lot to ask, but they were so upset.”
“If I were them, I’d be looking for a new church.”
“They love Kindred Souls. And they love each other. I don’t want them to leave just because Reverend Thorn hasn’t caught up with the times.”
“Someone has got to explain to that man what the name of his church means.”
“Mom…” Kat didn’t need another lecture about her ultra-conservative boss.
Her mother eyed her donut but didn’t pick it back up. “It’s already done, isn’t it? You’ve never been able to say no, have you?”
Kat pointed at the donut box. “You really want to go there?”
Laughter filled the kitchen. “No. Fine. If they want to get married here, of course we’ll support that. But don’t expect me to do anything.”
“Of course not.” Kat rose and kissed the top of her mom’s head. “I’ve got to get back. I’m going to have to stay after bell practice to wrap up what I didn’t get done today.”
“Fine with me if it’s okay with Travis.”
She trotted down the stairs loudly to warn her seventeen-year-old that she was coming. “I’ll be late tonight. You’re okay here with Gramma?”
“’Course. You want her in bed by ten?”
As she’d done with her mother, Kat kissed the top of his head. “Smartass. Are you sure you’re not going to turn into a troll down here?” Through the tiny windows at the top of the wall, she could see Evan and Jeremy standing in the drive.
“It has crossed my mind to charge you guys when you walk over my bedroom.”
“Hey, I fed you!”
“Which is why you got a pass.” He smiled, and she saw a flash of herself. With his muscular build and dark complexion, she more often saw her ex-husband, Jack. Travis thumbed toward the window. “What’s with the dudes walking the perimeter?”
“They’re thinking of having their wedding here.”
“Huh.” He turned back to his game.
“Would you be okay with that?”
“Fine by me, especially if I can charge them for walking through the kitchen.”
“You, too,” he said around a mouthful of food.
Back outside, she found Evan and Jeremy with their arms around each other debating which they liked better for the staging of their wedding—the porch between the regal pillars or the back patio with the wisteria arbor behind them.
“Does this mean it will work?”
Evan embraced her again, and she smiled at the look of relief on Jeremy’s face. “You must be a fairy godmother in your spare time.”
“Hardly,” Kat said, but her heart felt warm.
“Speaking of time, we’re feeling the crunch of planning all this with so little of it.” He threw his hands in the air. “Less than a month!”
“I have a long list of recommendations for photographers, florists and a caterer. That should speed you up.”
“How are we ever going to get all this done?” Jeremy asked.
“Don’t worry about things here. I can get the chairs and tables from church, and the caterer is a friend of mine. I’d be happy to call her tonight to see if she can work her magic here.”
“Oh, that would help so much!” Evan said. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind at all. Plus, it makes more sense for me to call since I can tell her what the kitchen is like. On the way back to church, you can think about what kind of food you’d like and your budget.”
“Listen to you! You really do know what you’re doing. I don’t know how we’re ever going to thank you enough.”
“By not worrying about a thing,” Kat said.
By the time they got back, she had a good idea of their catering needs and the office was clear. She’d managed to avoid her boss. She glanced at the clock. Street traffic had been kind to her, giving her some time before bell rehearsal. She pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts.
Kat smiled. It didn’t matter when she called. Wendy always answered the same way. “Hey, I only have a minute, but I have a proposition for you.”
* * *
Wendy Archer’s stomach did the roller-coaster dip it always did when Kat Morehart’s name lit up her phone. Though she’d come a long way from the wallflower admiring Kat from afar in high school, seeing her name still made Wendy feel like she was finally part of the in-club. “Anything for you.” With how much Kat had helped her business over the years, she found it nearly impossible to say no to her.
“You might regret saying that,” Kat said. A soft chuckle carried over the line.
“I’ve got a catering gig for you, off campus.”
Almost three years ago at their twentieth high-school reunion’s sit-down dinner, catered by one of the larger firms in the area, Wendy had complained to Susan, her girlfriend of two years, about the cold rubbery chicken. She’d been aware of their close proximity to the “cool kids”, but she never dreamed they be listening to anything outside their circle. She was stunned when Kat pushed back from the table and asked why it was so hard to find a decent caterer. Kat was as vivacious as ever but seemed to have softened somehow, like she wasn’t trying so hard. Wendy’s professionalism saved her from turning into a stammering mess. She suggested a few common mistakes that may have been made in the kitchen and thought that would be the end of Kat’s interest. Instead, Kat surprised Wendy by turning her chair to ask more of her.
The conversation stole her attention so completely that she and Susan had fought the entire way home. Wendy argued that her job required her to network. Her girlfriend complained that she never came first. Consequently, she had lost yet another relationship to her career, but as promised, Kat had begun recommending Wendy to cater church events. Wendy had started with staff gatherings, but she’d quickly landed huge weddings and funerals. Since the church had a congregation of nine hundred, she didn’t regret that evening’s networking one bit, especially when it meant receiving calls from Kat.
“That’s no problem. You know I love any business you direct my way.”
“You’ll need to check your calendar.”
“How far out are we talking and what’s the venue?”
“That’s the thing. It’s in a month. But it’s mid-week. And at my house.”
“Yes. It’s their fiftieth anniversary, and now with the Supreme Court’s decision…”
“Isn’t it wonderful?”
“For everyone without their head up their ass, sure,” Kat said.
She had to laugh. “Is that targeted at a someone specific?” Wendy was touched by the passion in Kat’s voice when she explained how she was trying to right what she felt Reverend Thorn had very much wronged.
“I’m sure we can make it work.”
“Oh, I’m so glad to hear that. You just made my day!”
“That was easy.”
“So do you want to come tomorrow?”
“What’s that?” Wendy smiled wryly.
“To check out the kitchen. I thought you’d like to know what you are working with.”
Wendy had a menu that would only need the final touches on-site, and could rent convection ovens or gas grills if necessary, but if the wedding party was small, she might be able to get by using Kat’s kitchen. “Do you know how many guests they’re expecting?”
“I told them our yard would max out at a hundred. Our plumbing wouldn’t be able to handle more than that!”
“Sit-down or finger food?”
“Sit-down. I told them about some of the meals you’ve done at the church, and they’re interested in setting up a tasting with you.”
“Absolutely. We can do that. Text me your address. I should be able to swing by next week.”
“Thank you, Wendy!”
“You’re quite welcome!” The way Kat said her name…Wendy sighed like a schoolgirl. It was ridiculous how happy it made her.
Wendy grabbed a coat with “Key Ingredients” stitched on the breast pocket. Having her dream of running a catering business become a reality still filled her with pride.
When her mother left, she and her father had lived paycheck to paycheck. Eating beans and rice day after day had played a big role in her life and contributed to her desire to eat well and then to feed others. She didn’t want to be tied down like her father, earning a minimal wage, caring for a kid and barely being able to pay the rent.
Over the years, she had enjoyed working on cruise ships, where unlike her father, she had called the shots. She chose her jobs, loving the freedom she had to move around. If she didn’t like the job, she would switch to a new one. She wasn’t stuck with an asshole boss who sucked the joy out of the carpentry her father had adored. It had taken time and the right business partner for her to settle down. She ran her side of the business and José ran his. They would have both gone under trying to do it on their own, but teaming up had given them stability and a better resource base.
Though Wendy had entered the event on the calendar, she hadn’t mentioned it to her assistant, Cory Gutierrez, yet. Once he learned the location, she would not hear the end of it. He already teased her about how much work they got from Kat’s referrals. His theory was that Kat was searching for ways to be close to Wendy, so she could work up the nerve to ask her out. While the idea held immense appeal, Wendy had known Kat for a long time and assured Cory repeatedly that Kat was as straight as an arrow. Still, he would have a field day if he knew she had a meeting at Kat’s house. She’d kept the event a secret for now but revisited it like a smooth stone tucked away in her pocket that she could run her fingers over.
It was almost a week before she had an early afternoon and could meet Kat. She programmed the address into her phone and let the automated voice guide her from her restaurant home base in Sherman Oaks. It routed her along Sepulveda Boulevard instead of the 405, and in twenty minutes, she made it through the familiar neighborhood where she and her dad had shared an apartment. She remembered that her favorite house was only blocks away. Set far back from the street behind huge green hedges, it had always spoken to her as she walked home from high school. Every day, she had thought about the family that lived there. They had to be rich. What she would have given to have so much lawn to play on! She had always wondered what the backyard looked like and what it felt like to live in a place without shared walls. Without drug deals on the corner. Without gunshots.
You have arrived, her phone announced. Your destination is on the left.
The house. It couldn’t be.
She pulled over and checked the address in Kat’s text. It matched. She parked by the curb and tentatively walked up the long drive, her youthful self whispering that she was trespassing. Shoving such notions aside, she climbed to the porch and stood at a green door with a large oval of glass in the center. Looking inside was like looking into the past. An upright piano took up a small wall across the room. Upholstered chairs clustered in a sitting area next to polished wooden stairs. Kat lived here? She looked for a buzzer and found only a brass knocker. She lifted it and tapped as gently as possible.
And there, walking toward Wendy with a huge smile on her face, was Kat. She opened the door and pulling her inside as if Wendy had been there hundreds of times.
“Thank you so much for doing this!”
“You know I cater at a lot of private homes. I don’t know what you’re worried about.”
“You haven’t seen the kitchen yet. It’s not exactly modern.”
“Does it have electricity?”
Wendy leaned to the side to try to get a look.
“I’m so sorry.” Kat ushered Wendy toward the kitchen. “It’s straight through. Just keep walking.”
* * *
Kat watched as Wendy took in the décor of her childhood home. She knew their living room didn’t look like any normal family’s with rocking chairs that had crossed the prairie in covered wagons, stiff-backed cane chairs and a small love seat next to a fireplace. Sheer curtains allowed light from the west and south-facing windows to fill the room. She remembered the family pictures on the mantel too late and hoped they didn’t capture Wendy’s attention.
What was she thinking when she invited Wendy to her home? Having Jeremy and Evan walk around the property had not panicked her, but Wendy in the living room had her sweating. Above them, she heard her mother get out of bed. She gave a powerful prayer that she would go to the bathroom and right back to bed as usual.
Thankfully, Wendy walked quickly to the large kitchen Kat’s father had designed when he was a teenager and his parents remodeled. A range with six burners separated the kitchen workspace from the small table they used daily. She’d taken extra care to tidy the kitchen as if it were interviewing for the job. She was glad for the small bouquet of flowers her father had gathered from the yard. The mint he used offset the mustiness that crept up from the basement. She had emptied the drying racks and stowed them under the sink to leave as much free counter space in the cooking area as possible. Now she eyed the counter closest to them thinking she should have stored the bread box and napkin basket in the cupboard below.
“The table can be extended,” Kat said to direct Wendy’s attention away from the clutter. “There are two leaves that would give you more workspace,” she continued, “and there’s another table in the dining room.”
Wendy followed where Kat was pointing through a doorway. “May I?” She inclined her head.
“Of course. Whatever you need to see. I see this as a nice staging area for the cake, plates and forks up on the sideboard and cake on the table. The French doors open to the porch.”
“When was the house built?”
“Nineteen nineteen. My father lived here when he was a child and later ended up buying it back.”
Wendy turned to her, surprise on her face.
“I live here with my mom and dad. And my son.” Recalling all the criticism her friends had delivered when she moved back in, she felt her defensive shield rise.
Wendy crossed her arms. “Your mom and dad?”
“I know how it looks. I really didn’t want to move back home, but after the divorce…” She didn’t want to say more. The last thing she wanted to talk about was the end of her marriage. Kat had told Wendy at the reunion that she was divorcing, but she’d never told her why.
“I get it. No need to explain. I just wondered how long your parents have lived here.”
“They’ve always lived here.”
“Wait, you grew up here?”
“I’m just…It’s nothing,” Wendy said.
“It’s not nothing. Look at you…” She gestured to Wendy’s crossed arms. “That made you mad. Why?”
“It can’t be more embarrassing than moving back in with your parents.” A flash of silver in the driveway caught her attention. “Just a moment,” she said to Wendy. Back in the kitchen, she opened the door to the basement and hollered, “Travis! Your dad’s here. Hustle!”
Luckily, he was ready, his flip-flops slapping the stairs as he bounded up. “See you later!” Kat called as the back door slammed. She worried that Travis probably appeared aloof to Wendy. She missed the boy who used to hug her goodbye and wore whatever she picked out for him rather than the shorts and T-shirts he wore year-round. She had given up those battles long ago.
Travis tucked his guitar into the trunk of Jack’s midlife crisis before folding himself into the passenger seat. The car reversed out of the driveway as if the house was on fire. Did she have to explain anything about that whole exchange to Wendy, or could she simply move on?
* * *
Wendy stood looking out at the driveway wondering what to say. Kat faced the window as well, her shoulders rising and falling with her deep breaths. Her fingers found the rubber band that held her blond ponytail. She slipped the band off and ran her fingers through waves and waves of hair as sleek, thick and long as it had been in high school. Wendy had always been envious of Kat’s hair, first of her French braids when they were freshmen and later the sophisticated buns she kept in place with a pencil. Her own chestnut-brown curls had never been tamed so easily.
“There. Now I can relax.” Kat turned around and her easy-going smile was back. “I’m having a spiked lemonade. Care to join me?”
“Absolutely,” Wendy said. She glanced around the spacious room split in half by the stovetop. A large bulletin board covered one wall. Almost half was home to business cards held in place by lady-bug push pins. A calendar, with reminders penned in purple marker on nearly every square, served as the centerpiece. Instead of envisioning how she would utilize the space for the wedding, Wendy pictured a teenaged Kat surrounded by her friends. No wonder she’d been at the center of the popular crowd with space like this to entertain in. Completely at home, Kat stood by an uncluttered yellow counter, popping tops off two bottles, handing one to Wendy.
“Cheers,” Kat said, clinking her bottle to Wendy’s before she took a sip.
Wendy sealed the toast with her own sip. “You have two refrigerators. This is a caterer’s dream, unless they are packed to the gills already.” A single cupboard stood in between them, just wide enough for the microwave. A fruit basket hung in front of a small window and held a few dried gourds. She looked for evidence of what kinds of meals Kat’s family prepared. One counter had several cutting boards and knives hung from a magnetic strip on the end of the cupboard which suggested they did some cooking, yet no cooking smells lingered. She didn’t pick up the heaviness of hot oils or any spices to give clues to favorite dishes.
“I couldn’t share a fridge with my parents.” Kat took another sip and studied Wendy. “Why did you want to know how long they’ve lived here?”
“I hoped you’d forgotten about that.”
“I don’t forget things easily,” she said.
Caught, Wendy confessed. “I used to pass this house on my way home from high school. Sometimes I’d see you.” Kat had done so many after-school activities that they almost never walked home at the same time, but Wendy distinctly remembered seeing Kat walk right by the house. “I never saw you walk up the drive. You walked all the way to Aqueduct.”
“You were spying on me?”
“Everyone watched you in high school.”
“Well nobody watching me would have understood.” She disappeared into her thoughts.
“A house like this, I pictured you hosting all the in-crowd parties.”
Kat’s eyes met Wendy’s. “Hardly.” For a moment she seemed lost in the past. Then her expression cleared. She set down her drink and stepped toward the range. “Most of the burners only light with matches. We keep a box here.” She reached into one of the numerous cupboards that hung above the countertops.
Business. Not pleasure. Wendy tested each of the six burners. “And the oven?”
“It gets hot. It’s just that the numbers are all worn off, so we don’t really know how hot.”
“How do you bake?”
“We prefer to leave that to the professionals.”
“Luckily, you know one.” Wendy didn’t want to talk business. As old as it was, the kitchen had generous workspace, and she knew she could make it work. She wanted to know what Kat thought people wouldn’t understand and why she hadn’t wanted to invite her friends to her house. “Why did you walk to Aqueduct if you lived here?”
Kat pulled her hair over her shoulder and started to lift the ends toward her face. Her eyes met Wendy’s again, and she ran her fingers through it instead. “One time, I was walking with these girls, and they started talking about who lived in this house. They had this whole vision of how spoiled the kids must have been.”
Wendy ducked her head, ashamed for thinking the same thing.
“I don’t know why, but I agreed with them. And then I was stuck. I couldn’t very well walk up the drive and wave goodbye to them.”
“Why would you agree with them?”
Kat rolled her eyes. “Come on. You know that fitting in is the most important thing when you’re a kid. It’s hard to fit in when your parents live in a place like this. Even when they can barely afford it and put what little money there is into fixing it up.”
“I’m sorry,” Wendy whispered.
“You don’t have to apologize.”
“But I was one of those kids. I assumed whoever lived here was rich. And I was jealous. My dad and I lived in this shitty apartment on the other side of the freeway.”
“Where does he live now?”
“He and his new wife have a place in Burbank.”
“I’m in Eagle Rock. Cliché, I know.”
“I don’t follow. Why is that cliché?” Kat asked.
“It’s where all the lesbians live.”
Kat’s hazel eyes widened just a little. If Wendy hadn’t been watching carefully, she would have missed it. These were the things she would share with Cory to prove that Kat had not split with her husband because she’d finally realized she should have been dating women. She remembered Kat’s curiosity after the reunion and how, though she expressed sympathy that Wendy’s relationship had ended, she seemed more comfortable being around her once she was single.
“You said the couple has already toured the yard. Did you talk about where they’ll set up tables?”
“Let me show you.” She carried her empty bottle with her, so Wendy drained hers and followed Kat onto a wide white porch. Kat took her bottle and dropped it over the railing where it clinked against other bottles. “Recycling goes here,” she said nonchalantly. Wendy stood mesmerized by the space. To her right, a patio stretched from the porch to the garage. To her left, lush lawn stretched back seventy-five feet or so to a large hedge. Trees that extended above the two-story house lined the edges of the property creating what felt like an oasis. It was hard to believe she was just a few blocks away from one of the major Los Angeles freeways.
“They said they’re inviting thirty to forty. I thought if they use the church’s round tables, they could fit everyone on the lawn.” Kat stepped past her and walked out to a single tall swing. She sat down and kicked off, rocking gently. “But I’m sure you’ve got a better eye for space. What do you think?”
Wendy thought that seeing Kat in her native environment was messing with her head. Why else would she be contemplating how romantic it was to watch Kat swaying with the orange glow of the sunset behind her? It must have just been her high-school self reveling in the fact that she was at Kat’s house, in Kat’s yard.
Which she had asked her to assess. Wendy switched to professional and paced the lawn area, feeling out the space where the tables would go, how much room to allow for chairs for her waitstaff to pass through. “It’ll be tight, but it will work,” she said.
“I’m texting the guys right now to let them know!”
With Kat’s attention on the screen, Wendy wandered to the patio. “Is the pool yours too?” she asked, peeking over grapevines that were just budding.
“Of course. And behind the garage is the turtle yard.”
“I wondered where you kept your turtles,” Wendy said. Then she burst out laughing. “Who has turtles?”
“We do. Actually, they are tortoises. Want to meet them?” Her buzzing phone stole her attention once again. “Evan and Jeremy want to know when they can choose the menu.”
“I’m at Fairbanks all afternoon tomorrow. Can they meet me there?”
Kat’s thumbs flew across her screen. Then she looked back to Wendy. “Did you want to meet the tortoises?”
“How can I resist?”
“There are some scraps for them in the compost bin inside. Let me grab it. More lemonade?”
The first one had gone down so easily that a second one truly tempted her. “I shouldn’t on an empty stomach.”
“Then let me feed you,” Kat said. “We’ll feed us and the tortoises.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“But I want to. You’re helping me, and I’m sure you get tired of feeding everyone.”
“I’m sure. Unless you have something better to do. I understand if you need to get going. I’m all loose-endsy now that Jack takes Travis to band practice. But it’s nice not to have to sit there and make awkward small talk with the parents I used to call friends.”
There were so many things Wendy wanted to ask. She wanted to know what had happened to Kat’s marriage, why they’d decided to divorce, and why it was awkward being around her friends. And she wanted to know why she was doing so much to help a gay couple from her church. There were so many questions that she couldn’t think of a single thing to actually say. Kat’s phone buzzed, and she quickly read the message and passed her phone to Wendy.
“They’re in. Want to text them the address?”
Wendy typed as she followed Kat back inside. She set the phone on the counter. “Why are you doing so much for these guys?” she asked.
As Kat pulled a few bags from her refrigerator, she started explaining about the church again.
Wendy interrupted her. “I know that part. I’m just curious about why it matters to you so much. Since, you know…”
Kat piled ingredients on the counter. “Since I’m straight? Come on, some of my best friends are gay.”
“I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right at all.”
“It’s okay. Even my mom wanted to know why it matters so much to me. It doesn’t seem right that if I wanted to remarry, the church would happily let me stand at the altar, but just because Jeremy and Evan are both men, it’s not allowed. It doesn’t seem fair. It’s not like people can control who they fall in love with.”
“You really can’t,” Wendy said, loving Kat a little bit for understanding.
“I’m in a position to help take some of the sting out of how the church rejected them. Why wouldn’t I?”
“True that,” Wendy said. “But still. It’s a pretty wonderful thing to do.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
Kat was so kind and genuine. Didn’t she know what a rarity that was? She had to know that most people just went along with the crowd. “You’re amazing.”
Kat rolled her eyes. “No more than you are.”
“Not true. You’re in a totally different position, like you were on Halloween, junior year.”
“Was there something special that year?”
“I wore that gigantic heart, and everyone teased me. All day people threw mean comments about how dumb I was to confuse Halloween with Valentine’s Day.”
“That does seem like a weird costume.”
“You don’t remember it?” Wendy was surprised.
“You were in a flock of your friends, all of you with your matching curled bangs, blue eye shadow and off-the-shoulder sweaters. They were dissing my costume, but you stopped. You plucked the cardboard glasses off my head and sang, ‘Turn around bright eyes.’”
Kat’s hand flew to her chest, and she dramatically continued, “‘Once upon a time, I was falling in love. But now I’m only falling apart. Nothing I can say. A total eclipse of the heart!’ Oh my god, I so remember that now! I loved that costume!”
“You were the only one who got it.”
“Everyone else was laughing at your white tights.”
“Can we forget about the tights?” Wendy cringed. “I had chicken legs back then.”
“Are you kidding? You’ve always had great legs. And you’ve never had to worry about your butt being too big.”
“I hope you never worried about that.”
Kat laughed. “Worried, she says, like my big butt is a thing of the past.”
“I wouldn’t call your butt big.”
Kat leveled her gaze on Wendy. “What would you call it?”
Wendy gulped, struggling to come up with the right adjective. She couldn’t very well say nice, though it was the first one that came to mind. Or perfect. “Shapely?”
“Nice job, Bright Eyes!” Kat said, rewarding her with one of her perfect smiles. “You just earned yourself dinner. I live on bean and cheese burritos. Is that okay with you?” She held up a bag of tortillas and a block of cheese.
“Of course,” Wendy said.
She was soon transfixed by Kat’s dinner preparations. She watched in awe as Kat spread a thin layer of refried beans in the middle of a tortilla, grated some cheese on top of it and popped it into the microwave. When it came out a minute later, Kat quickly folded it into a burrito. Beans and cheese, warm in a tortilla. The woman was an amazing advocate, but not an amazing cook.
Perhaps, Wendy mused, I could help with that.