“So, what do you guys think about Father Bob and the thefts that have been going on here?”
Fran huffs and lifts up her cane to point it at me. “It’s just not right, Paige. What is this world coming to when a church isn’t even safe? We should all get guns.”
“Oh, my God, no! You should definitely not get any guns. That is a bad idea,” I argue.
“Can I get a gun at Kroger? I have a coupon in my pocketbook for a dollar off any item,” Eunice says excitedly.
“I say we handle this ourselves. Take back the church!” my mother shouts.
“TAKE BACK THE CHURCH!” Fran and Eunice echo.
I need to put a stop to this before it turns into all-out old-lady anarchy.
“No one is taking back anything! Mom, as soon as I get some free time this week, I will look into this, I promise.”
Talk of guns is forgotten as Fran and Eunice begin discussing what dessert they’ll be making for their Altar and Rosary meeting later this week.
“Don’t you go to any trouble now, Paige. You just give Kennedy a call for me. I’m sure she’ll be able to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I’ll give Harold your number. Maybe he’ll let you look at all his roofies.”
Grabbing three canisters of pepper spray from the junk drawer in my kitchen, I shove them into my bag. Slamming the drawer closed with my hip, I pause when I hear a knock at the door.
Maybe it’s Lorelei. She knows I used her computer at the office to pull up old court records of Vinnie DeMarco so I could get his address. She knows I’m planning on staking out his house to see if Melanie shows up. If I’m real quiet, she’ll go away. She won’t break the door down like Kennedy if I don’t answer.
“Paige, are you home? It’s Matt.”
The sound of his voice makes a lump form in my throat, especially since our last encounter wasn’t a pleasant one.
On the way home from church with my mother the previous week, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends. As I was walking back out to my car, my arms loaded with bags, I ran into Matt. Literally. I was losing the grip on one of the bags and as I stepped down off of the curb trying to juggle them, I barreled right into him. Of course the bag filled with all of the items a woman needs to get over a man spilled out at his feet: a family-size bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream, two bottles of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, a can of Reddi-wip, and a bottle of Moscato.
The universe hates me. I would have much preferred the bag of tampons and Midol had fallen at his feet.
I could do nothing but stare at him as he bent down to pick up everything I dropped. When he stood back up and wordlessly handed me the bag, he began to walk away without saying one word to me, and I finally shook myself out of the shock of seeing him again to speak.
“I swear I wasn’t following you,” I told him with a shaky laugh.
He didn’t find it funny. He stuck his hands in his pockets and stared out at the parking lot. He couldn’t even stand to look at me, and it made me want to sit down on the curb and immediately start making myself a Reese’s Fudge Brownie Hershey Moscato sundae.
“Did you get my text?” I asked him lamely.
“Did you read it?” I tried again.
My heart thudded loudly in my ears. I knew this was my only chance to get him to understand and I was blowing it.
He sighed and turned back toward me, refusing to look at my face. His gaze landed somewhere between my chin and my neck. My plan of forcing him to look into my eyes and see that I was truly sorry wasn’t going to work.
“Look, I have a lot going on in my life right now and I just don’t have time for . . . this. Whatever this is. Or was. Fuck!” Matt cursed, his frustration with me evident.
“I’m so sorry, Matt,” I whispered, willing the tears in my eyes not to fall and show him how much it hurts that he doesn’t want anything to do with me.
“Yeah, well, I gotta go.”
And with that, he brushed past me and into the grocery store.
I shake the depressing memory of our encounter last weekend out of my head and rush to the door. I probably shouldn’t open it because he could very well be even angrier than Lorelei right now, but I want to see him. Even if it means I have to stand here and take it when he tells me how much he can’t stand me.
“I didn’t know if you’d answer,” he says in greeting as I fling open the door.
Just like every time I see him, I’m taken aback by how good he looks. Even when he’s frustrated or angry, I don’t want to take my eyes off of him.
“What are you doing here? How did you know where I live?”
“I stopped by your office to cancel my request for a PI, and when your friend Lorelei went into the back to grab the file, I snooped through your desk and found some address labels,” he tells me.
“Wow. That was pretty sneaky of you.”
“Don’t even start with me about being sneaky,” Matt warns.
He softens the blow by smiling at me. I missed that smile. I’m such a sucker.
“Are you going somewhere?” he asks, pointing to the bag flung over my shoulder.
“First, tell me why you’re here. If it’s to inform me what a horrible person I am, I already got that memo last weekend.”
He shoves his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and cocks his head. “You’re not a horrible person. I’m sorry for losing my temper at the diner and for being so shitty at the store. It was just . . . a lot to take in and I was confused and hurt.”
It takes everything in me not to reach out and touch him, not to wrap my arms around him and beg for his forgiveness. Even though I’ve been a sniveling mess since I screwed things up with him, and I miss him so much it hurts, I’m still me. Deep down I’m still the same strong, independent woman I found again after I left Andy, and I’m not about to put my heart on the line for someone until I know for sure the feelings are mutual. For all I know he just showed up here out of guilt for not giving me a chance to explain.
“I should have been honest with you. I just didn’t expect everything to go down the way it did. That day you showed up at the office asking to hire us to trail Melanie, I freaked out.”
Matt stares at me in confusion. “You were at the office that day?”
“Um, yeah. I was under Lorelei’s desk,” I admit sheepishly.
“So that’s why she kept shifting in her chair and coughing. I thought something was seriously wrong with her,” Matt says with a laugh. “Look, I’ve had some time to think about everything, and I get why you did what you did. Lorelei explained everything to me. Melanie hired you guys for some asinine reason and it was a conflict of interest for you to tell me anything when you met me. I should have never expected you to put your career or your friendships on the line for someone you just met.”
I silently make a promise to myself to get Lorelei the best pair of shoes money can buy as a thank-you present for having my back even if she doesn’t agree with what I’ve done.
Nodding my head, I move in closer to him in the doorway.
“I never meant to lie to you. Everything just snowballed so quickly. I wanted to tell you. As soon as you told me about her lawsuit and your father’s company, I knew I had to help you.”
Matt’s face softens. “Why didn’t you tell me about the whole modeling thing? I Googled you when I got home from the diner that night. Jesus Christ, Paige. You’re like Cindy Crawford famous. You must have thought I was a total loser when I didn’t know who you were.”
I reach for Matt’s hand, sliding my fingers through his.
“I never thought you were a loser, I swear. It’s just, for practically my entire life, people have looked at me and immediately wondered how they could use my looks for their benefit. No one ever saw the real me or realized I might want something more out of my life than sitting in front of a camera. You saw the real me, and it was amazing to just be plain old Paige and not ‘Paige McCarty, the model.’ I probably could have gone about this whole mess a little better, but I honestly didn’t know what to do without screwing over everyone I care about.”
The corner of Matt’s mouth tips up with a grin, and he takes another step closer to me until his chest is pressed right up against mine. “You make it so hard to stay mad at you. I have a thousand questions running through my head and all I can think about is kissing you again.”
Smiling back at him, I place the palm of my hand over his heart and smile back. “Well, I think you should just—”
“Paige Elizabeth, stop canoodling in the doorway in front of God and everyone.”
I immediately pull back from Matt as my mother shoulders past us into my condo. “Do you have any Tums? My indigestion is flaring up.”
Matt laughs behind me and my mother shoots him a dirty look. He immediately stops laughing and clears his throat.
“Who is this yahoo, and why is he standing in your doorway? Did you stand him up for one night—is that what this is?” she demands.
“It’s ‘one-night stand,’ Mom, and no. This is my friend Matt. Matt, this is my mother, Margaret McCarty.”
Matt moves around me and extends his hand out to her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. McCarty.”
My mother crosses her arms in front of her and glares at Matt. “It’s Miss, not Mrs. Are you one of the people who takes indecent pictures of my daughter?”
Here we go again.
I sigh as Matt slowly brings his arm back down to his side when he sees my mother has no intention of shaking his hand. “No, Mom. He’s not a photographer. And once again, they aren’t indecent pictures.”
“I saw your tush in the one you did for that Maximum magazine. Everyone in my needlepoint club saw your tush,” she complains.
“It’s called Maxim, Mom. And what were you doing reading Maxim magazine anyway?”
My mother shrugs and digs in her purse, finding a package of Kleenex and pulling one out. “I read it for the articles.”
Matt chuckles while my mother blows her nose, her eyes zeroing in on the bag still draped over my shoulder.
“Are you going somewhere?” she asks, crumpling up the Kleenex and shoving it back into her purse.
“Actually, yes. I was just heading out to do some work when Matt showed up.”
My mom purses her lips and crosses her arms over her chest again. “Are you doing nudie pictures again? No, don’t tell me. I want to make sure I show enough shock on my face when Eunice and Fran tell me they saw your bump-bump at the supermarket checkout next to Good Housekeeping.”
“Mom, I’m not doing nudie pictures or any pictures of any kind. I told you, I retired. I work full time at the private investigation firm,” I remind her.
“I don’t want to talk about your work as a prostitute.”
Why do I bother . . .
“Uh, is there something else you want to tell me?” Matt whispers in my ear.
“I am not a prostitute!” I raise my voice to bring my point home.
“You kiss a bunch of men and get paid to do it,” she reminds me.
“I’m an investigator, Mom. I’m paid to catch men who cheat on their wives.”
My mother turns her angry glare to Matt and walks toward him. “Has my daughter kissed you?”
Matt’s eyes widen in fear. He looks from my mother to me.
“Mom, cut it out.”
“I’m going to take that as a ‘yes,’” she tells Matt, completely ignoring my warning. “So you’re a cheater. You don’t look like a cheater. Andy looked like a cheater. I told Paige she should have never married that good-for-nothing.”
“Matt is NOT a cheater, Mom. Matt is a good guy, so leave him alone. I really need to get going. I have work to do. Why don’t I stop by next weekend for dinner?”
I slide my hand around her arm and gently steer her toward the door.
“I’ve got my bridge club next weekend, and Fran is making her Jell-O salad. I can’t miss Fran’s Jell-O salad. I’ll just come with you to work.”
I stop in my tracks and stare down at her. “You can’t come to work with me. I’m going on a stakeout. It could be dangerous.”
Yeah, not really. All I plan on doing is parking my car a block away from Vinnie DeMarco’s house to see if Melanie makes an appearance. The most dangerous thing that will happen is not being able to say no to the ice cream truck when it drives by ten times.
My mother reaches her hand into her purse and this time, instead of a Kleenex, her hand comes back out with a revolver.
“JESUS CHRIST, MOM!”
Matt and I shout at the same time as we dive for the floor while she waves the gun around.
“Oh, for the love of Saint Patrick, will you get up off the ground? It’s not even loaded. The bullets are in my glove box,” Mom says with a roll of her eyes.
“What the hell are you doing with a gun?!” I screech at her from my position on the floor, flat on my stomach with my hands still covering my head.
“The church was broken into again two days ago during our Altar and Rosary meeting. They took the Communion hosts for the next few years this time,” she explains. “We think it was Father John from Holy Cross because he plays poker every week with Father Bob, and Father Bob keeps winning. Father John is a sore loser. Anyway, it’s a dangerous world out there when someone starts stealing Communion. Eunice and I went up to the gun shop and got ourselves some protection. Get up off the floor. I can’t talk to you down there.”