Check out an excerpt from Keeping Secrets in Seattle....
I was hideously out of place.
“Yoo-hoo, we’re over here.” When Alicia wiggled her fingers at me in a cheerful greeting, the sunlight that poured through the windows glimmered on her ring.
“Hi.” My voice came out entirely too noisy, and I cleared my throat. “Er, hi.”
“Did you have trouble finding the place? I told Gabriel to give you directions.” Alicia was sitting primly at a long table, with four girls sitting at either side. “We ordered a mimosa for you.”
“Thanks.” I took a deep breath, flustered by the jog. “Sorry, I had to jump a few buses to get here.”
The girl to Alicia’s left wrinkled her nose. “You’re a bus person?”
I nodded. “No need to pay for gas when there is only parking for one-third of the cars in the city.”
Alicia’s green eyes sparkled. I swear she could do it on command, and I hated that about her. “I know. I’m always after Gabe about how much it costs to run our car.”
I swallowed the urge to point out that the car she was referring to was Gabe’s car. Not hers. He and I bickered over the fact that he bought a gas guzzling all-terrain vehicle after receiving his last raise, instead of the economically earth-friendly smart car I was pushing him toward.
“I would be way too nervous to ride the bus everywhere.” She giggled, flipping her red hair back. She looked great, as usual, and it made me want to bang my head on the tabletop. “You’re much braver than I am, Violet.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, sometimes the bums smell bad, but they tell a hell of a good story, too.”
“Girls, this is Violet Murphy,” Alicia explained. “She is going to be Gabriel’s best man. Violet, let me introduce you to my bridesmaids.”
I looked around the table at the four girls surrounding Alicia. It was like an ad for the United Colors of Benetton. All four pairs of eyes reeled to my face at once, and I immediately sensed scrutiny. My hair, my face, and my outfit were immediately assessed, as Alicia rattled off each of their names.
To her left there was a thin Asian girl, Rose, who I was sure I’d seen in an ad in Seattle Metro Magazine before; and a blonde, Kate, whose teeth were capped into a row of white bathroom tiles. To her right, there was an African American woman, Shawn, whose long, braided hair shone like a licorice rope down her back. Next to her was her cousin, Marissa, who was equally as beautiful as Alicia, which was incredibly annoying. Last but not least, there was a brunette, Kate, who glared at me while fingering a BlackBerry. Each one of the girls was at least three sizes smaller than I, and though in any other situation I would have been proud of my curves, in this group I wanted to hunch over to hide my breasts and tugging at my shirt to disguise my tummy.
I waved at them, my jewelry clunking together. After slipping my bracelets off underneath the table, I dropped them into my purse, and unfolded my napkin onto my lap. “Thank you so much for inviting me. I’ve never eaten here.”
Alicia sipped her mimosa. “Gabriel and I come here often. It’s one of our favorites.”
I looked around at the other women. “Wow, with these girls as your bridesmaids, and you for a bride, your wedding party will be stunning.”
“Well, I have to look at these pictures for the rest of my life,” Alicia joked, patting Marissa on the hand sweetly.
Rose snickered under her breath. “Hope the best man doesn’t plan on wearing that hat.”
I glared at her. “So…how do each of you know the bride?”
Kate spoke first. “I’m her agent. I work for Puget Model Management. So I’ve known her since she signed on with us...oh, how long ago was that?”
Alicia’s hand went to her chest sentimentally, and I waited for her to say a number of years. “Eight months.”
My eyes bounced between the two of them, who were obviously sharing a tender moment. Did she just say months? Confused, I moved on to Rose, who offered me what could only be described as a grimace intended to be a smile. “I’ve been her roommate for a year now.”
“We did our first nudes together.” Shawn grinned. “That was two years ago. I hadn’t heard from her in a year, but here I am.”
My eyes bugged out of my head. “Nudes?”
Alicia waved a hand, dismissing me. “They were for an avant garde pictorial. There’s no porn in my background, I promise.”
I shook my head and sipped from my glass. “No, I wasn’t—”
“I’m Alicia’s cousin.” Marissa’s voice was loud and commanding. “She’s told me everything about you, you know.”
I nearly choked on my mimosa. “Oh yeah? Such as?”
"Apparently you and Gabe have been friends since you were, like, ten, right?” Marissa folded her deeply tanned arms. Who in Seattle, in the middle of February, was tan? Really?
“Six.” I bit the inside of my cheek.
“You two are, like, best friends, right?” She eyed my hat with disdain.
I tugged at the collar of my shirt. “Is it hot in here? Um, yes. Nobody knows me like Gabe does.” As soon as I said it, I cringed. Talk about opening myself up for scrutiny.
“Right.” She flared her nostrils. “So anyway, you guys apparently know each other inside and out?”
I shifted in my seat and laughed nervously. “Listen, I know Gabe really well, but not to the extent that he and Alicia know each other. I mean, some things just come with being in an actual relationship, you know?”
The other girls nodded in unison, and I released a breath of relief.
“Did you guys go to school together?” Shawn asked.
I nodded. “Yes. Clear until our junior year.”
“And you guys were neighbors,” Alicia pointed out, her mouth tightening.
“Yes.” I gulped. They should hang a single light bulb over my head and slap me every time I answer.
“What’s his favorite color?” Marissa snapped.
“Gray,” I answered without thinking.
Kate nudged Shawn with her elbow. “What’s his shoe size?”
“Eleven and a half.”
Shawn tilted her head at me curiously. “What’s his favorite food?”
“What’s his biggest pet peeve?” Marissa polished off her mimosa.
Rose sneered. “What brand of toothpaste does he use?”
I noticed that Alicia’s eyes were round and the corners of her mouth were downturned, and felt sorry for her, despite myself. It had to be embarrassing to be shown up by your fiancé’s female best friend. “His mother’s homemade lasagna, he hates it when people snap their gum, and he uses Crest.”
All five women at the table stared at me in silence.
“But, wait.” Rose the roommate pointed her finger at my face. “Didn’t you and Gabe date at one time?”
My stomach turned. Alicia knew about Gabe and I dating? Well, of course she knew about Gabe and I were more than friends for a brief time. They were engaged, for pete’s sake. I wondered how much detail he’d shared with her. Did he tell Alicia how much I’d loved him, and how much it destroyed me when it ended? Did he share with Alicia how awful those months afterward were?
I could feel the weight of all their eyes on my face. “I...I don’t know if I would call it dating.”
Marissa tapped a fingernail on her glass. “Well, what was it, then? If it was significant enough for Gabe to sit Alicia down and explain it all to her?”
I began weaving together tapestries of curse words in my mind, inventing colorful ways of inviting Alicia and all of her bridesmaids all to go to hell. I wanted to tell Alicia that she didn’t deserve Gabe, or the rest of the Parker family, for that matter. Heat rose from the collar of my shirt like a teapot, warming my face. Just as I was toying with the idea of flipping the table over and screaming like Tarzan, someone else wormed his way into my thoughts.
Whether or not I liked it, Gabe loved Alicia Von Longorial. He made his choice, and if I loved him, or ever had, I would make it work between Alicia and me, no matter what it took. I didn’t like her. Not even a little bit. But Gabe loved her, and I loved Gabe. That had to be enough for me. Even if it meant going against my natural instinct to cuss like a trucker and possibly pull some hair extensions out of their perfectly coiffed heads. And if they didn’t think I knew those were extensions, they were kidding themselves…
My eyes locked with Alicia’s. “Gabe probably wanted to make sure you knew everything about his past with me, right from the get-go. He didn’t want you to think that he and I were trying to keep something from you. Because there was never anything...” I paused and gulped. “...real between us.”
My fists clenched underneath the table. Lying about my relationship felt downright sacrilegious. “We were just...sixteen, and curious, I guess. It never meant anything.”
Liar, liar, liar...the word echoed in my head like the beat of a drum.
“It didn’t mean anything?” Rose repeated. She was perceptive, for a model.
“No.” I forced myself to laugh breezily. “Gabe’s my best friend. Nothing more.”
Liar, liar, liar.