Authors: Teal Wingate
“Hello? Hello? My name is Billy. I found your picture in my mama’s underwear drawer. Well, she’s not really my mama. My real mama lives down at the cemetery. Her name is Willow. Like the tree. But my other mama, the one with the underwear drawer? She had your phone number on a piece of… coloring paper under her bathing suit. You know, that kind of vanilla paper your teacher gives you to draw on? Hello? Hello? You sure are quiet. JD, is that your name? JD sure is a funny name. But it’s on this little piece of vanilla paper. I called cause I was just wanting to know. Are you my daddy?”
Consuelo began to sob quietly. She’d lost her job for sure. The laughter began as a mere ripple of titters towards the back of the sanctuary. It didn’t take long for it to grow into full-throated roars. Soon the whole church was howling with malicious glee.
The bride said a few words that would not be suitable to appear in print on the front page of the next morning’s newspaper. The groom watched her throw her pricey Hawaiian bouquet to the pale marble floor. She stomped it three times before she galloped down the aisle away from her groom, the pastor, and all her bridesmaids. The Tiffany tiara bumped up and down like a fishing float on a stormy sea as she ran. It slid precariously to one side of her fancy, teased coiffure. A photographer stationed by the huge double doors of the church caught an image of her snarling with the dainty crown lurching drunkenly over one ear. It was the
. That too, would grace the next day’s newspapers.
The groom didn’t seem too concerned. He nodded to the preacher. He whispered something to his best man. And then he strolled down the aisle like he owned the place.
Sea Glass Café
That Same Evening
It was a Saturday. That meant it was Blues and Barbeque Night at the café. Sunny had taken over as the server. Trinity was too close to her due date to be waiting on tables. The place was full. And there was a line out in the parking lot. A little three piece blues group jammed in one corner of the dining room. Harry was back in the kitchen carving barbeque. He’d been up most of last night tending the makeshift pit behind the café.
A little girl in a pink tutu bumped into Sunny as she slowly made her way through the crowd. A few older couples were trying to circulate around the little postage stamp-sized dance floor. She balanced a tray full of drinks. Everybody wanted to talk to everybody else. It could have been pandemonium. It should have been. But it was just another Saturday night at Sea Glass Café.
“Hey Miss Sunny,” tutu child said with a wide smile.
Sunny smiled back at her. “Good evening, Miss Olivia. I see you came ready to dance tonight.”
Olivia was one of Sunny’s students at Maude Evelyn’s Dance Studio. To Sunny’s surprise, teaching the preschool ballet classes had been a wonderful experience. She’d met a lot of other young mothers. And she’d found that if she couldn’t be a prima ballerina herself, she could enjoy instructing future ones.
“I want to dance, but I don’t have nobody to dance with.”
“Billy’s over there with Miss Trinity and Mr. Trey. He’s about your size. I bet he’ll dance with you.”
“I don’t know…”
“Go on, ask him. He likes to dance,” Sunny gave her a little encouragement.
She watched as Olivia dragged her feet all the way over to the cash register. Billy sat on a high stool behind the counter. Trinity was busy collecting money. Her husband Trey stood by the front door, watching the crowd. Sunny really didn’t need him to stand there looking like some kind of bar bouncer. But she would admit he kept the café’s patrons from getting too rowdy. The closer Trinity got to her due date, the more Trey seemed to hang out at the restaurant.
Sunny delivered her tray of drinks and was taking the table’s dinner order when a sudden quiet descended upon the noisy place. Looking over her shoulder, she felt her stomach drop to the floor.
Standing in the doorway was JD McIntyre. His tuxedo was wildly out of place amid the worn jeans and tourist shorts of the crowd. And his face was hard and cold. He stepped into the middle of the dining room and looked around. His lethal silver gaze was as hot as a laser. About that time, even the little band realized something was going on. The music abruptly stopped in the middle of a refrain.
McIntyre walked towards Sunny. Well, in her mind, he seemed more like a jungle cat stalking its prey. She’d always been afraid this day would come, sooner or later. But she sure wished it had come some other time and some other place. And she sure wished she was better dressed for the occasion. It was hard to be intimidating in a pair of ripped jeans and a pink tie-dyed tee-shirt with Sea Glass Café printed across your bosom. The braid trailing down her back didn’t help much either. And she’d told herself more than once, that a swipe of cherry chapstick could not properly be called makeup.
“Miss Murphy,” he said in that deep hot-buttered rum voice of his. He inclined his head in greeting.
It was a very old world gesture. He sounded just like he always did in her dreams… uh nightmares. She didn’t think she’d forgotten one single thing about the man. He looked the same. His black hair was a little too long. She remembered it felt like heavy silk when she’d run her fingers through it that night on the beach. His eyes still made her remember the old sterling silver sugar bowl her mother had cherished. It was Sunny’s now. Pity the man wasn’t.
“Mr. McIntyre,” she said gravely.
“I need to speak with privately. Could we step outside for a moment?”
It was a perfectly polite and legitimate request. And she was terrified right down to the tips of her pink-painted toenails. He’d come to take Billy. There could be no other reason he’d show up here after all these years. She couldn’t delude herself into believing he was here on her account. It was a miracle the man even remembered her name.
“I’ve got a restaurant full of customers. Can’t this wait?”
“No, it cannot.”
He looked over and jerked his chin at the two men who’d walked into the café behind him. They were big. One of them could be JD’s twin escept for his hair. The other looked more like a lawyer. He carried an expensive leather briefcase. Both men wore tuxedos. The one who looked like McIntyre grinned. The lawyer frowned. Both of them proceeded to begin waiting on tables.
“You can’t do this. They can’t do this,” she hissed up at him.
“I need to see you outside Sunny.”
“What if I don’t want to talk to you,
Instead of getting mad at her, which she was pretty sure he had a right to do. She’d taunted him. And she’d done it on purpose. Instead of yelling or trying to hit her, he grinned. He grinned like he’d missed her. Sunny swallowed hard. Her head felt a little swimmy. Maybe she should have eaten lunch.
“You need some help, Sunny?” Trey was suddenly standing at her back. A heavily pregnant Trinity was right beside him. Harry had come out from the kitchen with a butcher knife in his hand. Maude Evelyn glided over from her regular table by the window.
Sunny would have laughed. If there’d been enough time. Little flashes of lights were already crowding her narrowing vision. And then the absolute worst thing happened.
“Hey!” Billy bounced up dragging Olivia with him. They’d both been doing their childish version of dancing. In Billy’s case, that meant doing a whole lot of jumping up and down. His little face was sweaty and red. But his puppy-dog eyes were shining.
“Hey, I know you! You’re the man in the picture. You’re even wearing the same clothes. Hey, everybody!” His high-pitched voice echoed through the silent dining room. “This is my daddy!”
Sunny’s eyes rolled back in her head. She felt her knees give way. She started to plummet to the floor. She knew when she slammed into it, it was going to hurt. But there just wasn’t a darn thing she could do to stop it from happening. For a minute everything went black. Then she was floating on the ocean.
But strangely the ocean had never felt so warm or smelled like cologne from the bottle she kept hidden in her underwear drawer. Neither had the ocean ever lifted her head or made her sip something that burned all the way down her throat. She woke up sputtering and trying to catch her breath. That’s when she heard the yelling.
“Give her to me!” That was Trey. He sounded like he was ready to go to war.
“No,” rumbled the low voice that seemed to be coming from somewhere near her ear.
“Get your hands off her, you low-down dirty son of a bitch,” Harry roared.
Sunny lifted her lids. It was hard, but she did it. She thought she caught a glint of light flashing off his butcher knife. Harry liked to keep his knives sharp and shiny.
“Young man, who are you? I must demand that you surrender Sumner immediately. It is not at all seemly for her to be hoisted up into your arms like a sack of potatoes. This is public establishment. And a very well regarded one.” Maude Evelyn sounded very distressed.
“Are you the guy who’s the reason Sunny’s still a virgin?” Trinity had never been known for her delicacy or considerate turn of phrase.
“Enough!” JD’s command stopped them all cold. “Sam, clear the place. Matt write a check.”
Both men nodded. The lawyer went over to retrieve his briefcase from behind the counter. The man named Sam smiled at the other patrons. Sunny was sure she heard a few of the women sigh.
“I’m so sorry folks. But you’ll have to leave. Sea Glass Café is closed tonight for a private party.”
“You can’t do this,” Sunny found her voice. She directed her words solely to the man who held her in his arms like she weighed less than a feather. “You can’t just shut down my restaurant.”
JD hoisted her up higher. He leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Yes, I can. It’s already done.”
Sunny looked over his broad shoulder. She realized he was right. Every person in the place was being kindly but firmly escorted out the door by Sam. Even her friends and Billy were forced out.
Over at the counter, the man named Matt called to her. “Miss Murphy do you prefer a check or may I just directly deposit into your bank account?”
Sunny was stunned. She couldn’t find her voice. She looked up at JD with pleading eyes.
“A check is fine, Matt. Put it in the cash register,” JD answered for her. “You can turn the lights out when you leave. Tell Sam I won’t be joining you at the Towers tonight.”
“You won’t?” Sunny was appalled at how her voice broke on the last word.
Was he implying what she thought he was? Did he think she was going to sleep with him? Did he believe he could just stroll into her restaurant and pick up with his seduction of her where he’d left off five years ago?
“We’ve got a lot to talk about Sunny.”
He eased her into the booth closest to the bar. The squat white candle in its Mason jar holder flickered on the table. He turned away. Before she knew it, he was behind the bar.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked.
“I like the house red,” she answered.
There was a part of her that just couldn’t believe this was happening. He was here. After all the years of dreaming about him. He was here. But she was pretty sure this…
that was going on would be ending badly. At least it would for Billy and her. How could she a fight a billionaire for custody of his nephew? Nobody was going to give fig that she’d raised the child with all the love and care of a mother. The judge who’d been so sympathetic when she’d granted Sunny guardianship of both Willie and her baby, might not be feeling so kindly soon. Was there a statute of limitations on withholding information from the police?
She watched as he poured her a glass of wine. Then he poured himself two fingers of her best Scotch in a squat, heavy glass. He dropped in one lone ice cube. Bringing them both to the booth, he slid in opposite her. He didn’t say a word. He just ran one long tanned finger around the rim of his glass.
Sunny watched its slow sensuous progress. She lifted the wine glass and took a hefty gulp. She immediately pulled her hands into her lap. She gripped her fingers together.
“Look at me,” he demanded in a soft voice she felt all the way down to the source of her womanhood.
She took a deep breath and did as he asked. She saw a strange tenderness in his eyes. One she wouldn’t have thought to see in JD McIntyre.
“Tell me about Willow,” he coaxed this time instead of ordering.
Sunny felt a flood of hot tears gather in her eyes. “Why now? Why do you want to know now?”
“She was my sister, Sunny. My baby sister. Of course I want to know what happened to her.”
“How do you know about Willow being here in the first place?”
“I don’t believe you. How could he have?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know him. I don’t know what he’s capable of,” he said with a long steady look. “I didn’t know he existed before he called.”
“If all it took was a phone call, why didn’t you want to have anything to do with Willow those times I called you.”
“We both know you never called me.” He took a drink of his Scotch. His gray eyes accused her of awful things. But he remained silent.
“Are you calling me a liar?”