Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 18

After leaving Jonah’s, I’d run by our latest job to check on the site and tell the homeowner it might be a few days before we wrapped things up. When I got home, I spent five full minutes staring at the clothes in my closet. Did I want to wear jeans and a sweatshirt and try to make Joe think this was no big deal? Did I want to put on a dress and curl my hair? But would he think I was trying to win him back? I ultimately decided to dress for me. I was going to be on camera and I wanted to look good whether Joe was there or not. I chose a suede skirt and cream-colored sweater with dark brown boots. I’d even curled my hair and fixed it into a style Neely Kate had tried out the weekend before.

I knew Violet lashed out when she was stressed, but I was stressed too. “Violet, I’m already going above and beyond by doing this today. Don’t push me.”

Her mouth fell open in shock, but she quickly closed it and gave me a disapproving look. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, Rose Anne Gardner, but I’m not sure I like you very much right now.”

“Well, that makes two of us, because I haven’t liked you for a good month.”

Tears welled in her eyes. She started say something but then turned around and walked into the back room, leaving me to feel like the worst sister in the world. What I said may have been true, but that wasn’t the way to tell her. At least not according to the role-playing games Jonah and I had practiced when preparing for this confrontation.

I glanced around the shop and wondered why she had freaked out about me being late. I couldn’t see a single thing that needed to be done. But then again, I had no idea what we were supposed to do in the first place.

She came back out after a few minutes, her smile screwed on and her eyes shining bright, pretending like nothing had happened. “The campaign people won’t be here until close to one, but the SBA people should be here at any moment.”

My stomach flip-flopped. “Do you know who’s coming with the campaign people?”

She turned to give me a smug smile. “Nope.”

It was my turn to gasp.

She glanced out the window, her eyes lighting up as the front door opened. “Mayor MacIntosh. It’s so wonderful that you could make time in your busy schedule to come today.”

Brody sauntered through the door and shook her extended hand, holding on longer than necessary. “I wouldn’t dream of missing it, Violet. What’s good for the Gardner Sisters Nursery is excellent for all of Henryetta.”

I glanced around, wondering who they were putting on their little show for. There were a few customers in the store, but I was the only one watching, and I wasn’t falling for it. I cleared my throat. “Muffy, let’s go in back.”

“That’s right,” Violet called after me. “You run off and hide like you always do, leaving me to do all the work.”

I stopped in the doorway and spun around while Muffy ran for the dog bed I kept in the back room. Smart dog.

Brody stood next to her, looking like someone had just pointed a shotgun in his face.

I put my hand on my hip. “Is that what you think I do?”

Brody took two careful steps backward as though he was worried he was about to step on a landmine.

She put both hands on her hips and cocked her head. “Isn’t it?” she asked in her syrupy sweet voice.

I took several steps toward her. “I do plenty of work around here. I work six days a week, and I’m out doing manual labor while you stand around behind a cash register all day.”

She gasped. “I do more than that!”

The customers had stopped perusing the store, turning their full attention to Violet.

Brody had his hand on the door. “I’ll just wait outside.”

Violet spun her head around to him so quickly it was a wonder it didn’t fly off her head. “No you won’t! You wait right there.”

My sister’s raised voice had attracted the attention of several busybodies outside and they stood in rapt attention outside the windows, as if they were watching an episode of the Real Housewives of Fenton County.

“You’re right,” I conceded. “You do more than run a cash register. You let everyone think that I’m some evil tyrant who’s made you into an indentured servant.”

Her face reddened. “You know full good and well that I’ve been trying to set the record straight since I confessed that to you.”

I took several steps closer. “Really, Vi? How hard are you trying? Because Mrs. Hershel’s eyes nearly fell out of her head while she was glaring at me at the bank last week.”

“How can you be sure that it was over my little misunderstanding? It could be because of the company you keep. Think about it! Jonah Pruitt’s mother killed five women and tried to kill you, but you spend more time with him than me. Then take Bruce Wayne. He’s a criminal, for heaven’s sake. I’m sure we’d get even more landscaping jobs if someone more respectable worked with you. Joe was right. No wonder he broke up with you.”

I shook my head in disbelief, tears springing to my eyes. “You have no idea, Violet.” I clenched my fists at my sides. “No idea at all why we broke up.”

“Mason will see it too. He’ll see that you’re not like everyone else. I’ve tried to protect you, but you got a bee in your bonnet and decided to prove me wrong. And everything’s falling apart around you now, just like I knew it would.”

“Violet!” Brody said, his voice full of shock.

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