Tessa drew a breath and flicked her dark hair back from her shoulders before running up the steps to the bar. Sounds from the party—slightly drunken voices, rising laughter—came from inside. And it wasn’t just any party. It was Bridgette’s engagement party, the social event of the year. Or so Bridgette had described it to Tessa, who still couldn’t believe that she’d been invited.
At the doors, Tessa stopped. Her stomach growled. She’d come straight from work and hadn’t had a chance to eat. But that was okay. It was a party—there was bound to be food. After hesitating for a second, she strode into the wall of sound.
The place was packed with about two hundred people, the women all Bridgette-wannabes, impossibly tall and skinny. Clearly, Bridgette found it comforting to surround herself with clones. The men resembled Bridgette’s fiancé, Brad, and were cookie-cutter handsome.
Tessa scanned the crowd for Bridgette. She needed to congratulate her. Huge displays of flowers looked down from pedestals and at the front of the room, Bridgette had created an Instagrammable photo opportunity by installing a rainbow arc of metallic balloons. Tessa half expected to see ice sculptures or for a fire breather to wander past.
She weaved through the guests on the hunt for Bridgette. In her head, she practiced what she was going to say to her. Congratulations? No, too lame. It had to be snappier to compete with the A-listers. Bridgette, wow, I’m so happy for you. But that remark could come off as insincere seeing that she hadn’t seen Bridgette since they’d left high school.
Bridgette, I— Tessa reached the food table. There was so much good stuff that she didn’t know where to look first. Tiny goat’s cheese quiches laden with caramelized onions lay next to open sandwiches with thick layers of pink salmon. A cheeseboard jostled with mini ramekins of tapenades and oh-so-plump grapes.
There was no one else at the table. Tessa reached to get a plate. It was so small that it would only fit a couple of things. Clearly, A-listers weren’t meant to eat. She loaded it up with as much as she could and was just about to walk away to find a quiet alcove to eat when her gaze fell onto the slices of cornbread. She loved cornbread. These were bursting with chives and sundried tomato. It would be suicide to drink on an empty stomach.
After glancing over her shoulders, she opened her purse. Then she picked up a couple of slices of cornbread, wrapped them in a napkin and dropped them into her bag.
“What are you doing?” a voice close by said.
Tessa nearly jumped out of her body.
She whipped her head around. To her horror, Bridgette was towering over her in skyscraper heels, scowling with all the wrath of her Viking heritage.
“I said what are you doing?” Bridgette’s voice rang out into the party. “OMG, Tessa! Were you stealing food like a poor person?”
Tessa blushed so hard that her earlobes burnt. “Don’t be silly, I…” she began. Bridgette stared at her, clearly waiting. Tessa felt the brunt of her blue-eyed gaze. The noise level in the room had dropped. People had abandoned their conversations and were openly eavesdropping.
“Well?” Bridgette said loudly.
Tessa wracked her brains.
“Well?” Bridgette repeated.
“It’s just, the thing is…” Tessa wished there were a trapdoor beneath her feet that could open up. Then, at last, inspiration came. “I wanted to feed the seagulls,” she blurted.
“The seagulls?” Bridgette cocked an eyebrow.
“That’s right, the gulls.”
Bridgette made a sound that was not unlike a seagull squawk. “Oh, Tessa. You’re so quirky. I remember now. That’s one of the things that I love about you.”
Tessa was laughing too but with relief. “That’s right,” she replied. “You always said I was weird.”
Bridgette stooped and linked her arm through Tessa’s. “Well, my little zookeeper. Let’s go outside and find you some birdies to feed. There’s something that I want to ask you.”
Tessa’s stomach dropped. Something else? A sixth sense told her that it would be worse than the stolen bread.
Arm-in-arm, they walked through the crowds and onto the patio. Tessa caught her breath. Vancouver had never looked finer. They had a panorama view of the Pacific Ocean, which was bathed in the evening light that reflected off the windows of the skyscrapers, causing them to twinkle and sparkle like jewels. The mountains across the harbor were caught up in the same glorious golden glow.
To her left, multi-million-dollar cruise ships bobbed at the dock, waiting to whisk to Alaska people who’d flown in from around the world.
“What a view,” Tessa breathed. “It’s perfect. Bridgette, you’re so lucky.”
Bridgette smiled. “You have to make your own luck. Like with my fiancé, I could have chosen anyone. Not wanting to boast but I had my pick. I settled on Brad because he’s kind and caring and runs his own private medical practice. And when I saw him, I thought, why wait? I mean when you know, you just know, don’t you? That’s why we’re getting married next month.”
“You make a stunning couple.”
Bridgette nodded. “You’re not the first person to say that. When we announced our engagement on Instagram, nearly all my ten thousand followers liked my post. Followers from all areas of my life. And it got me thinking, who better than my oldest, dearest high school friends to be my bridesmaids? Vix has already said yes and I hope—”
She shot Tessa an expectant look.
“I said,” she repeated, her tone slightly sharper, “who better to be my bridesmaids than my dearest high school friends?”
“Oh, you mean Isobel and Christine,” Tessa said.
They were the girls who used to follow Queen Bee Bridgette around at school. Isobel was now an actress and Christine had gone on to be a model.
“No, not them,” Bridgette said. “Guess again.” She looked directly at Tessa.
Tessa shrugged. “I don’t know. I give up.” Bridgette had a whole line of A-listers to pick from.
Bridgette raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow and kept looking directly at Tessa.
Tessa swallowed. “You can’t mean…me?”
She expected Bridgette to burst out laughing because she must have misunderstood or maybe this was a prank. But Bridgette didn’t laugh. Her expression was serious. She tucked a strand of her Norwegian blonde hair behind her ear and fixed Tessa with her china-blue eyes.
“You did understand,” she said, her voice solemn. “I promise you, Tessa—and I’m not kidding here—you are going to be my bridesmaid at the event of the summer.”
* * * *
Just before Josh rang his mother’s doorbell, he did a few lunges to stretch out his quads. Man, he was stiff from the flight and from sitting in a chair for almost a straight two days of meetings. He wondered why his mother, Karen, wanted to see him so urgently.
When he rang her bell, Liberace, her chocolate brown Labrador dog, named after her favorite singer, began to bark inside. Josh grew tired of waiting, turned the door handle and stepped into the hall.
His jaw dropped. What the hell? The place was a wasteland of boxes, rolls of bubble wrap and empty cardboard circles of packing tape.
“Mom?” he called.
His voice echoed down the hall now that there wasn’t any furniture to absorb the sound. He heard footsteps then his mom, Karen, appeared with Liberace waddling at her heels. Josh blinked. Her blouse was crumpled, her gray curls wild. Even when they’d been camping when he was a kid, she’d never stepped out of the tent without a full face of makeup.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“Coffee?” She led him down the hall. “How was LA?”
“Okay, a ton of meetings. We’re trying to move into Europe. Oh, and my marketing people want me to bring out a line of athletic leisure wear.”
He followed her into the kitchen, dodging oversized boxes and garbage bags barely able to contain drapes and linens. Takeout containers littered the counter. Karen grabbed a packet of coffee from the fridge and measured out a scoop of beans, which she dropped into the grinder.
“Something incredible’s happened!” she shouted over the whir of blades.
“Huh? Turn that thing off.”
“While you were away.” Karen stopped the grinder. “While you were away, a property developer turned up at my doorstep. He wants to buy all of the houses on this block for a land assembly.”
“To turn into condos?”
“You’re so clever. How did you guess?”
“It’s obvious,” Josh said. Vancouver was in the grip of a housing crisis. Every day, more and more houses were being torn down to make way for low level blocks of condos. “How much did he offer?”
“You’ll faint when I tell you.”
“But surely you’re not selling the family home.”
Karen reached for a coffee filter. “These heritage houses are so much work. There’s always something that needs fixing. I know you do your best, and Graham does too, but I’m no spring chicken.”
“Mom, you hiked up Grouse last year.”
Karen looked down, admiring her legs in her skinny jeans. “It won’t always be like that,” she said. “Graham’s apartment has an elevator.”
“You’re moving in with Graham?”
Josh raked a hand through his hair. Suddenly, he felt even stiffer from the flight and tired and cranky. He couldn’t believe what she was suggesting. Sure, he liked Graham, who’d been seeing his mom for about a year. The two of them were always laughing together and spent a lot of time on the golf course. But even still, it was hard to see her with someone else and to lose the house where he’d been raised…
Karen touched his arm. She wore a roll of packing tape around her wrist like a bracelet.
“I can’t wear widow’s weeds forever,” she said.
“You’re not wearing black.”
“I mean, metaphorically. You want me to be happy, don’t you?”
“Then let me do this.”
Her words hung in the air with the scent of the coffee. Josh realized that this was the closest that she’d ever come to begging. There was a pause. “Okay,” he said at last. “But he’d better treat you like a queen.”
Karen swept Josh into a hug. “I knew you’d understand, and I realize you’ve never been Liberace’s greatest fan but I’m sure that over time—”
Josh pulled away from her. “Hold on. What are you talking about?”
“Graham’s building doesn’t allow pets. It’s against the strata rules. You’ll need to take Liberace.”
Josh almost choked. Was she serious? Not only was she selling the family home and swanning off to start a new life, but she was expecting him to deal with the crumbs. And he had enough to deal with without adding a grossly overweight, perpetually greedy, slobbery dog into the mix.
He shook his head. “Sorry, there’s no way that I’m going to let your dog ruin my summer.”