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Just Because You’re Paranoid – Chapter One

Welcome to the first chapter of book nine in the Operation Quickline series, Just Because You’re Paranoid. Like the old poster said, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Sid and Lisa are headed for the shock of their lives – assuming family doesn’t make them crazy, their business lets them, and the person gunning for them doesn’t succeed.

It happened as the result of a coincidence, one that was so bizarre and improbable that it could only have happened in real life. It even topped how my Mama and Daddy had met each other. They’d grown up in the same small city in Southern Florida but never knew each other, even though they’d gone to the same high school, only to finally meet in New York City at Columbia University, where they’d both gone to college.

Mama eventually said that she didn’t think our coincidence was that weird. It’s just how things are in South Florida.

It started when Mama arm-twisted Sid and me into going to my cousin Maggie’s wedding. We weren’t going to because we had decided not to invite Maggie and Jed Simons to Sid’s and my wedding that coming spring. But then Grandma Caulfield called and let me know she wanted to meet Sid and our son, Nick, and that the wedding would be the perfect time to do it. Then Daddy told me Grandma Wycherly wanted to meet Sid and Nick and wouldn’t the wedding be a good time to do it? We could come out a day or two early to visit with Grandma Wycherly, then Grandma Caulfield (Mama’s mother), then go to the Maggie and Jed’s wedding. Sid agreed it was probably worth meeting the grandmothers. We both made it clear that we did not want to go to the wedding. Yet that is exactly what we ended up doing.

We’d gotten into Miami airport late Thursday night. Friday morning, we met Grandma Caulfield, who was bowled over by Nick. Well, Nick, at twelve-years-old, was growing into his father’s charm, but still had a happy, boyish energy. Sid and Nick look almost alike, with dark, wavy hair, bright blue eyes, and a sweet little dimple in their chins. Nick wears glasses, Sid wears contact lenses. Already, the top of Nick’s head crested Sid’s shoulder. Sid is not a large man, only three inches taller than me, and I’m average. Nick, I strongly suspected, would be taller than his dad.

Of course, Grandma Caulfield was in love with Sid even before she met him. Sid has money. Thanks to an inheritance and some shrewd investing, Sid and I are independently wealthy, which, as far as Grandma Caulfield is concerned, makes me the golden girl of the family.

Grandma Wycherly surprised us that Friday evening. We didn’t expect her to get too excited about Sid’s money. That side of the family is comfortable and has always looked down on my mama’s side of the family because they aren’t. It’s one of the reasons we don’t have too much contact with them. But Grandma Wycherly took one look at Sid, opened her eyes wide, then refused to talk to him. We had no idea why, although when we figured out about the big coincidence, it explained it some. Between Grandma’s declining health and her odd reaction, it was one quick visit.

Saturday, though. What a miserable event it was. The rumor was that Maggie had pretended to be pregnant to get Jed Simons to marry her, then “lost the baby” after he agreed. As she walked up the aisle, she had such a look of desperation on her face that I shuddered.

Sid put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me. “You’re not her.”

“I know.”

With our own wedding on the horizon and a host of my fears about getting married, watching Maggie did not help. [I’m trying to remember. Weren’t they divorced already by the time our wedding hit? That might have been one of your other cousins, but I know Maggie and Jed barely lasted a year, at the most. – SEH]

It was a secular wedding in a park, which had Grandma Caulfield up in arms. Mama’s family is Catholic, but most of her siblings and all the cousins have left the Church. There was a receiving line at the end and Maggie gave me the stink eye as Sid and I greeted her. Apparently, I’d outdone her with a fancy, rich fiancé, and a wedding in Beverly Hills. But that’s where Sid and I live, so there wasn’t much to be done about that.

The reception was at a nearby Elks lodge. There were a head table and a tiny dance floor and a buffet featuring fried chicken and gravy, wilted lettuce, creamy salads, and some gray green beans. Tubs filled with ice, cans of beer, and wine coolers sat scattered around the room. There were sodas, too, for the younger kids, and pitchers of sweet tea on the tables. But I noticed a lot of the teens had wine coolers in their hands.

Sid and Nick kept getting a lot of odd looks from the adults in the room. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t entirely fit in. Sid wore a perfectly tailored two-piece suit with a snowy white shirt and blue paisley silk tie. Nick had on a light-colored sport coat and dark slacks. Sid had helped Nick tie his bright green tie that morning. Sid was still wearing a cast on his right wrist from an accident we’d been in late the previous August. I didn’t entirely fit in, either. I had on my favorite green shirtwaist dress, with big shoulder pads and a button-up front, and cute high heels. But then, I realized there was an undercurrent to the looks that was oddly speculative.

Maggie and Jed and the wedding party got to go through the buffet line first, and we all watched them eat as we waited in line for the food.

“I’m beginning to think you were right about not having a head table,” Mama said softly to me as we stood in line. She’s small and pert and a force of nature, and at that time, driven by planning mine and Sid’s wedding. Both Sid and I were working overtime to keep her from going crazy.

“Thanks,” I said without enthusiasm, looking around the room for my son. He’d been running around with some of the other kids, and I needed to warn him about the wine coolers. “Nicholas!” I signaled, and he ran over.

“What’s up, M—” He choked. His voice had just started breaking and usually did at the most inconvenient times.

“See those bottles with the B and J on them?”

“Those are disgusting!”

“They’re also a poor excuse for wine, so be careful.”

Nick made a face. “There’s wine in that? Yuck!”

“And it will make you pretty sick pretty quickly.”

Nick does like wine. Sid and I let him have a little at dinner when we have some. We’re hoping that by not making alcohol a forbidden fruit and by us setting a good example, Nick won’t go overboard when he gets to high school.

“Okay.” He ran off again, only to be summoned by his father, who was sitting with Daddy at a table near the door to the room. It looked like Sid shared the same concern I’d had, because Nick rolled his eyes and pointed at me.

“Did you see the baby pictures set up next to the presents?” Mama asked. “Isn’t that the sweetest thing?”

“No. Absolutely not. No way, no how. No baby pictures. Sid doesn’t even have any.”

“Why on earth not?”

“I don’t know. I guess his aunt didn’t take any.”

Sid was raised by his Aunt Stella.

Mama looked perplexed. “Didn’t his mama take any?”

“I don’t think so. And she died when he was two.”

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot.”

We finally got to the food, and Mama and I filled plates for ourselves and for Sid, Daddy, and Nick. I put a plate with a chicken breast, some limp salad, and some green beans in front of Sid.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I told him. “It’s the best I can do.”

He sighed. Sid is a health freak, and while he will give way sometimes on how and what I eat, the wedding had put him in a pickle.

“Well, hello there!” One of my two uncles ambled up to the table, a beer can in hand. Both are not overly tall, but big around and older than Mama. The problem is my Uncle Steven and my Uncle Leonard are identical twins, and I can seldom tell them apart.

“Hello, Leonard,” Mama grumbled. She can tell her brothers apart.

Uncle Leonard was Maggie’s father. He held his hand out to Sid.

“So, you’re the fella that’s going to make an honest woman out of our little Lisa,” Uncle Leonard said, laughing.

“I couldn’t possibly,” Sid said with a tight smile as he shook Uncle Leonard’s hand.

“What’s that?”

“How can I make Lisa that which she already is?”

It took Leonard a minute and he still couldn’t parse that one out.

He belched. “‘Scuze me.” He swallowed some beer. “The big question is, where you been hiding that boy of yours, Lisa?”

“With my first mom,” Nick said, digging into the food on his plate. “Lisa’s my second mom. She’s adopting me.”

“Oh.” Leonard nodded. “I didn’t know you was married before, Sid.”

“They weren’t,” Nick cut in. “I didn’t even know Dad until I was eleven.”

Sid looked fondly at his son. “It’s worked out well, though.”

“Must run in the family,” Leonard said and wandered off.

“Sorry about that, Sid,” Daddy said around some chicken. “Have to say, though, if Lisa’s relatives haven’t scared you off of her, you must really love my daughter.”

Sid laughed and gazed sweetly at me. “I must really do.”

“Run in what family?” Nick asked.

Mama and Daddy looked at each other, then Mama patted Nick’s arm.

“You and your daddy just look a lot like some people we knew in the area.”

Nick’s eyes opened wide. “You mean, like his dad? Is that why everybody is looking at us funny?”

“Not my father, Nick,” Sid said, scraping the skin off his chicken breast. “Our features come from my mother. I showed you that picture I have of her.”

“Your mama, Sid?” Mama looked curiously at him. “What was her name?”

“Sheila Hackbirn,” Sid replied. “I don’t know if that was her real name, but it’s the one on my birth certificate. My aunt had already changed hers when her sister came to live with her. And I guess my mother took the same name for some reason.”

“And what’s your daddy’s name?”

“Unknown.” Sid chuckled.

“Oh.” Mama looked at Daddy again, who shrugged.

“It doesn’t bother me, Althea.” Sid smiled at my mom. “You know I’m shameless.”

Mama looked at him. “Don’t you ever wonder, though?”

“Not really.” Sid thought for a second. “Maybe a passing thought or two. But in the environment in which I grew up, I was hardly the only kid who didn’t know who his father was. If anything, it was more unusual to have a dad.”

Daddy looked at him. “I don’t understand.”

“I was raised with a bunch of beatniks, communists, and later, hippies.” Sid smiled softly. “It was all about free love, and conventional societal mores were the kiss of death for relationships. I didn’t even know what conventional societal mores were until I went to high school.”

“Will you folks excuse me?” I said, getting up. “I’m going to see if I can find a soda.”

“We’ve got some sweet tea right here,” Mama said.

“Mama, soda has less sugar than that tea.”

Mama shrugged as she poured herself some of the iced tea that was so sweet it would have made my teeth ache. I don’t know if Sid told them that he and his aunt had been estranged since he was nineteen and drafted into the U.S. Army. It was one of those sore spots he had, understandably.

I found a tub that had a can of generic cola in it and bent to get it. As I straightened, I saw that my cousins Darlene and Miranda had flanked me.

“Hi, guys.” I smiled but felt no warmth.

Darlene was short, like most of the women in Mama’s family, but Miranda was about my height. Both had their blond hair teased out and sprayed into place.

“Well, Lisa,” Darlene said, taking my arm by the elbow. “How did you get that man to marry you?”

“I asked him to.” I tried to edge away from them and couldn’t.

“Oh, come on.” Miranda giggled. “We want to know how you snagged him. Landsakes!”

“I didn’t snag or trap him,” I snarled. Both Darlene and Miranda were still married, but I’d heard the clock was ticking on Darlene’s marriage.

Darlene laughed. “Oh, don’t be shy, Lisa. Something that delicious ain’t settling down without some serious motivation.”

“We love each other.” I finally pulled away. “That’s motivation enough.”

I walked away, feeling really steamed that no one in my family thought I was attractive enough on my own to get a husband without resorting to chicanery. Perhaps it was because most of my female cousins had done exactly that. I was going to return to the table but changed my mind and went to visit the ladies’ room, off the front foyer, instead. As I went in, I could hear Aunt Amanda (who was married to Uncle Leonard and Maggie’s mother) and Aunt Marie (Uncle Steven’s wife) talking to each other in the stalls. I closed myself into one and tried to relax a little.

“Well, I’ll tell you, that little boy of his is a caution,” Marie said.

A toilet flushed.

“Cute as a button, too.” Amanda added. The other toilet flushed. “Leonard told me just now that the boy said his father never married his mother.”

“Sounds just like you-know-who.” Marie lifted her voice over the water running in the sink.

“Wait. I wonder.” The water in the sink stopped and a paper towel dispenser thunked several times. Amanda laughed. “You know, she looked like both him and his daddy. You think…?”

“You think we should call…?”

“I do believe we should.” Amanda cackled. “Course, she ain’t going to be terribly happy to find out.”

Marie cackled, as well, and the two left the ladies’ room. As soon as I could, I grabbed my soda, washed my hands, and hurried out.

Sid was waiting for me.

“Sid, I just heard the most amazing conversation.” I tried to go back to the reception hall.

Sid held me back. “I don’t care. I’ve had it. We’re leaving.”


“Nick got sick.” Sid’s eyes blazed. “One of your idiot cousins spiked his soda and talked him into chugging it.”

“My poor baby!”

Mama came up. “He’s alright, Sid. Bill’s helping him rinse out his mouth now.”

I looked back at the reception hall. “I don’t want to stay either.”

“Then don’t,” said Mama. “Bill and I better stick around a while longer, though.”

“We’ll head to the airport from here.” Sid sighed. He took Mama’s hands in his. “Althea, you are a lovely person to know, and I consider it a privilege to have you as my mother-in-law. But I cannot stand your family.”

“I can’t stand them either,” Daddy said, his arm around Nick, who still looked a little ashen. “The only folks worse are my family.”

“We should never have come back to South Florida,” Mama said.

My parents own a resort in South Lake Tahoe and spend the warmer months there, then go down to the motel they bought in Homestead, near the Everglades, during the winter. They’d gotten tired of the snow and Grandma had raised a stink about not having her only daughter living near her.

There were hugs and kisses goodbye, then Nick, Sid, and I went out to the rental car in the parking lot. When we got to the airport, we discovered that the soonest flight to Los Angeles wouldn’t leave for another five hours. Nick, fortunately, had mostly bounced back.

“Dad, there’s a flight to New York in half an hour. Can we?”

Sid looked at me. “Honey? We can spend the night and get a late flight out to L.A. With the time change, we won’t be back too late.”

I put my arm in his. “You know, that sounds like fun.”

We had a lovely time. New York, with its reputation for never closing, had plenty to offer us, and we happily walked the streets and took a carriage ride through Central Park. We spent the next day ambling along Fifth Avenue. Sid stopped us as we started past Tiffany and Company.

“Son,” he announced. “Your mom and I are about to get goopy-eyed, so just deal with it, okay?”

Nick’s eyes rolled, but he still had a grin on his face.

Sid looked at me and folded his arms across his chest. “I seem to remember that I made a promise to you standing outside this door once.”

I flushed. I did remember, but looked away. “That’s one I’m not holding you to.”

“Ah, but I think the time has come.” He gently took my arm and ushered me inside, Nick at our heels. “I have never broken a promise to you, and I never will. Hands in your pockets, son.”

Nick sighed.

We looked around the glittering room. Sid had promised me he would drag me into the store at some point when I no longer had an excuse to protest and twist my arm into telling him what I liked, and he would buy it for me.

“Now, what do you like?” Sid asked. “And don’t try fibbing.”

I sighed. “All of it. None of it. It’s just so overdone.”

We looked at some flatware. Since we were rebuilding our house, we would need a set. We’d been collecting some beautiful antique sterling, but we needed something for everyday use. Nothing there was right. Sid had me look at necklaces and earrings and I finally found a lovely, but simple necklace with a fine, gold chain and a pendant of two wavy crossing lines set with small diamonds.

“Perfect,” Sid said, and waved at the sales lady. “She’ll wear it out.”

The sales lady took his credit card and wrapped the opal necklace I’d been wearing in the familiar blue box. Sid had bought me that necklace, too. This time, the purchase was more of a gesture, though. The winter before, Sid and I had merged all our money and assets into a business partnership, and now we co-owned everything, including the house. As Sid often noted… Well, I did, too. We were, for all intents and purposes, already married. The church ceremony to come was about the Sacrament of Matrimony, which was important to me since I am a practicing Catholic. Sid’s an atheist, but he appreciated the way I felt about it and was happy to go along.

Nick was bored out of his mind, but didn’t get too fidgety for a change. That’s one way he and his father are very different. Nick is hyperactive. I couldn’t imagine a fidgety Sid, no matter how hard I tried.

It was close to ten, California time, when the shuttle from the airport dropped us off in front of the condo building on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and one of the side streets in the area. We’d had to move out while our house was being rebuilt and had bought the condo directly across from the one owned by our friends Kathy and Jesse. Once upstairs, Sid and I kissed Nick goodnight, then went to get ready for bed ourselves. I stripped and Sid put on a pair of tight jeans. That was the one shadow in our lives.

Until the previous spring, Sid had slept around. A lot. We didn’t know it at the time, but the AIDS epidemic was just getting into the straight population right around when Sid stopped sleeping around. We had even thought he’d been exposed to the virus by one of his girlfriends. His test had come back negative, which was a good sign, and it had been long enough since he’d slept with the girlfriend in question that she probably had not given it to him. The problem was any one of the many women he’d slept with after that could have passed on the virus, and it had only been a little over six months since the last time he’d had sex with someone. Given that we didn’t know how long it took after exposure for the virus that caused AIDS to show up in the bloodstream, we were waiting for Sid to get tested again.

For a while, he’d been reluctant to even kiss me, he was so worried about potentially infecting me. But I’d pointed out that if saliva carried the virus (which was by no means certain) and if he had the virus (again, very unlikely), then it was already way too late for me. Yeah, we’d been deep kissing even before he gave up on other women. Eventually, we got pretty involved in some extremely heavy petting, you might say, which is when we started sharing the old waterbed we’d brought over to the condo from the house. Sid wore jeans to keep me safe from any of his bodily fluids. We could have used condoms, but Sid didn’t trust them. He had a point. He’d been wearing one when he conceived Nick, and didn’t want to take any chances.

Sid slid up behind me and softly kissed my shoulders. It felt so nice, but we were both exhausted.

“I love you, Sid,” I said as I blinked and rolled over to kiss him.

“I love you, Lisa.”

We kissed again, snuggled, and fell asleep.

3 thoughts on “Just Because You’re Paranoid – Chapter One”

  1. Wonderful chapter. Nothing like a family wedding to bring out the best–and worst–in everyone. Sid and Lisa are quite a twosome–can’t wait for more.

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