Welcome to From This Day Forward, book ten in the Operation Quickline series. It’s Sid and Lisa’s big day – their wedding. But in the weeks leading up to the event, something strange is going on. The only thing scarier will be their honeymoon. You can read the first episode here and see all the episodes that have run here.
5:01 a.m. At least, we were in striking distance of dawn. I laid back and closed my eyes. I had spent most of the last couple months before worrying about details including the guest list, menus, dresses, wedding favors (was I really the only person in the world who liked Jordan almonds?), music for the reception, music for the mass, who needed to be where when (and in some cases wishing said relative wouldn’t be there). What I had not had time for was dealing with my very real ambivalence about being married. It wasn’t Sid. I would have been perfectly happy with the commitment we had and just living together, except for my religious beliefs. Marriage is a Sacrament in the Catholic Church, and I wanted that for us, even though Sid is an atheist. Sid respected that, which is why we were doing the church thing. The rest of it, well, Sid and I had wanted to celebrate our love for each other with our families and friends. Mama had wanted a full matrimonial blow-out, and she wasn’t the only one.
I didn’t want to think about that, however, and the sound of women chattering in the living room of Sarah Williams’ apartment filled my brain.
(Thursday, February 13)
The living room in the older building was sparsely furnished, but chairs were scattered in a circle around the couch. Sarah’s husband Dan, who is also the youth minister at our church, had been banned, and I was grateful for that. Dan is militantly anti-alcohol, and while I don’t drink much, I do like a glass of wine occasionally and at that point, sorely needed one.
Janet Weinstock and Sylvia Perez had convinced Sarah that it would totally hurt my feelings if there wasn’t a wedding shower for me, and a surprise one at that. Janet and Sylvia had forgotten that at the last surprise party in my honor, a year before, I’d gotten kidnapped by members of a Colombian drug cartel. The worst of it was I’d forgotten to remind both Janet and Sylvia that I absolutely did not want a wedding shower. There had been a blowup at Irene Sanchez’s baby shower about three and a half months before, and I’d foolishly thought that would have gotten through to them. So had Kathy and Esther. That Janet and Sylvia decided to surprise Kathy and Esther, as well as me, should have been a big hint that a shower would not be welcome. Sarah told us she wanted to have a quick dinner meeting that Thursday night.
I hate showers in general. I am not a very domesticated woman. Yes, I sew and knit, but that’s as domesticated as I get. When Sid first hired me as his associate in the spy biz, he’d needed to keep me under twenty-four-hour surveillance, so I’d moved into his house. I stayed because he had (and still has) a housekeeper. I hate housework and cooking. If the ever-wonderful Conchetta Ramirez isn’t around to cook for us, Sid does the cooking because he likes it and is a much better cook than me.
So, naturally, Janet and Sylvia had to make this shower a kitchen shower.
“You love to eat so much,” Sylvia said.
I smiled and poured a full glass of wine. She had a point. Me? I was still shaking from the surprise. A buffet of mini tacos and mini burritos had been set out on the dining room table, along with a couple of salads and some chips and overly lemony guacamole. The spiciest thing on the table was a small dish of pickled jalapenos, which was something.
Janet laughed as I dished several of the peppers onto my plate. “You’d better be careful with those, Lisa. They’re really hot.”
I looked over at Esther, who shrugged. The jalapenos were warm, but not the tonsil searing experience Esther and I enjoyed.
“Thanks, Janet,” I said.
The table had been decorated with cutesy and saccharine potholders. Esther picked up a round one and annoyed the heck out of Janet by trying to make it fly like a Frisbee. Kathy caught the potholder and put it back on the table. She was not in a good mood, either. I kept smiling as if I was fine. I have to be pretty good at hiding my stress. It’s how I stay alive sometimes. It didn’t help.
Esther grabbed another potholder to toss.
“Pull!” I muttered.
Esther tossed and Kathy watched as my eyes followed the flying potholder until it hit its apex.
“Pow!” I hissed.
Kathy chuckled. “I’m glad your purse is in the other room.”
“I don’t want to put bullet holes in Sarah’s ceiling.”
Kathy looked at me. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah.” I took another sip of wine. “It’s not their fault, Kathy. They really don’t know me that well, and I don’t make it easy for them.”
“I know.” Kathy sighed.
She knew why I didn’t make it easy to know me. She had the same problem. When her husband, Jesse, had been recruited into the side business that previous fall, Kathy had become part of it, too.
As soon as everyone had some food, Janet handed out sheets of paper for our first game – unscrambling kitchen words. I debated crushing my sheet into a ball, but went along with it. Esther made dirty words out of her list, and I wished I’d thought of that. To make things worse, several of the words referred to appliances that hadn’t been part of a modern kitchen since before most of us were born. I mean, really. What’s a dripolater? Kathy won the game and got a teacup.
“Now, we’ll play Kitchen Bingo,” Janet announced.
“I’m not playing that,” Esther said loudly.
Half the room looked shocked and disappointed. The other half looked relieved. [Let me guess which half you were on. – SEH] I got up and got another glass of wine.
“Um, Janet, why don’t we just open gifts now?” I asked, coming back into the living room. “I’ve got to be up early tomorrow for work.”
I smiled, even though I was not looking forward to opening gifts, either. “Sarah, can I borrow a pair of scissors, please?”
“Of course.” Sarah grabbed a pair from Dan’s desk at the back of the room and handed them to me.
It’s an old joke that the number of ribbons a bride breaks at her wedding shower will be the number of children she’ll have. I’d had a feeling that Janet and Sylvia had nicked the ribbons on the packages to make them break more easily. I did not want to deal with breaking ribbons.
“Don’t you want to know how many children you’re going to have?” Sylvia giggled.
Something snapped inside me. “I already know how many children I’m going to have.” My voice shook a little as I glared at Sylvia and Janet. “I have one, and he is all I’m going to have.”
“And he’s not even yours,” someone said, supposedly in sympathy.
The women drew back uncomfortably and even scared as I scoured the room for the person who’d said that.
“I may not be the woman who gave birth to him, but Nick is just as much my son as if I were,” I snarled, blinking back tears. I turned on Janet and Sylvia. “And there aren’t going to be any more. Sid and I can’t have kids.”
Janet trembled. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I don’t want people feeling sorry for me and not talking about babies around me and treating me with kid gloves.” I sniffed. “That just makes it worse.” I swallowed and got a good sip of wine. “Now. I’m cutting the ribbons off, and that will be the end of it.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry about the fuss.”
“That’s alright, Lisa,” said Erin MacArthur. “Every bride is allowed a good breakdown.”
Sadly, I got in another one. I tried to appreciate the gifts. But the reality is that I get as bored watching Sid wander through Williams Sonoma as he does watching me in a fabric store. I opened a box filled with round mesh screens with handles on them in three sizes and frowned, then smiled and thanked Susie Talbot for them. Irene Sanchez began chuckling.
The next box was really heavy. Inside was an orange enameled Dutch oven.
“Huh,” I said. “My mom used to have one of these.”
Both Erin and Irene started laughing.
“You don’t know what that is, do you?” Erin said, giggling.
“It’s a Dutch oven,” I said, blushing. “I see them in the stores sometimes.”
Kathy shook her head. “That’s a premium Dutch oven. Enameled cast iron by Le Creuset.”
“How thoughtful of you, Diana.” I smiled at the woman who’d given it to me. “Sid will love it.”
“You don’t cook much, do you?” Irene asked.
I tried to smile. “I can follow a recipe as well as the next person.” The women all looked at me. I sighed. “But, no, I don’t cook very much. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. These are wonderful gifts and I’m sure Sid will love them. I’m just not much of a cook.” The tears started flowing again. “Or anything else you guys expect me to be.”
Kathy put her arms around my shoulders. “It’s alright, Lisa.”
Erin slid over next to me on my other side. “Of course, it’s alright, Lisa. You’re much more interesting this way.”
Sarah and Irene also got it. Suzy was on the fringes. The rest of the room, I had my doubts about. Certainly, Janet and Sylvia couldn’t figure me out. We finished unwrapping presents, while I told everyone how happy they’d make Sid, which it turned out they did. [That was one nice haul. – SEH] There were gourmet cookbooks, including one with gorgeous photographs featuring recipes from Italy. Erin had packaged it with a tall cake pan with a latch on the side. She’d also bookmarked the recipe for a timbalo that the pan went with.
The party ended soon after. Janet made sure that I got all the potholders that had been used as decorations, then left.
“You doing okay?” Esther asked, as she, Erin, Irene, Kathy, and I helped Sarah clean up.
I shrugged. “All the reasons why I didn’t want to get married.” I sighed. “I guess I still don’t.”
Sarah looked worried. “Are you and Sid fighting?”
“Not any more than usual.” I blinked my eyes. “It’s not him at all. It’s being married. You know, the expectation that I’ll be doing the cooking. That I’ll change my name. That I don’t like hot sauce.” I frowned at the stack of potholders. “How many of those are there?”
“I counted twenty-five,” Esther said.
I half-smiled. “That’s a box of shells.”
Kathy got it, but the others didn’t. The next morning, Kathy and I took the potholders to the firing range. Each of us had a twelve-gauge shotgun and a box of ammo. We took turns throwing the potholders in the air for each other, and by the time we had blasted every last potholder to smithereens, we still had half a box of shells left. I hadn’t had so much fun shooting in years.
Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.