Blue-Eyed Devil Page 3

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Most fascinating of all, the Phelans were Buddhist, a word I'd heard even less often than "vegetarian." When I asked Todd what Buddhists did, he said they spent a lot of time contemplating the nature of reality. Todd and his parents had even invited me to go to a Buddhist temple with them, but to my chagrin, my parents said no. I was a Baptist, Mother said, and Baptists didn't spend their time thinking about reality.

Todd and I had always been so close that people assumed we were dating. We hadn't ever been romantically involved, but the feeling between us wasn't strictly platonic either. I'm not sure either of us could have explained what we were to each other.

Todd was probably the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. He was slim and athletic , with refined features and blond hair, and his eyes the opulent blue green of the ocean in Caribbean travel brochures. And there was a feline quality about him that set him apart from the big shouldered swagger of other Texan men I knew. I had asked Todd once if he was g*y, and he had said he didn't care if someone was a man or a woman, he was more interested in the person's inside.

"So are you bisexual?" I had asked, and he had laughed at my insistence on a label.

"I guess I'm bipossible," he had said, and pressed a warm, careless kiss on my lips.

No one knew me or understood me as well as Todd did. He was my confidant, the person who was always on my side even when he wasn't taking my side.

"This is exactly what you said they would do," Todd said when I told him that my family was ignoring my boyfriend. "So, no surprise."

"Just because it's not a surprise doesn't mean it's not aggravating."

"Just remember, this weekend's not about you and Nick. It's about the bride and groom."

"Weddings are never about the bride and groom," I said. "Weddings are public platforms for dysfunctional families."

"But they have to pretend it's about the bride and groom. So go with it, celebrate, and don't talk to your dad about Nick until after the wedding."

"Todd," I had asked plaintively, "you've met Nick. You like him, don't you?"

"I can't answer that."

"Why not?"

"Because if you don't already see it, nothing I say could make you see it."

"See what? What do you mean?"

But Todd hadn't answered, and I hung up feeling mystified and annoyed.

Unfortunately, Todd's advice went by the wayside as soon as I started a foxtrot with Dad.

My father was flushed from champagne and triumph. He'd made no secret of wanting this wedding to happen, and the news about my new sister-in-law's pregnancy was even better. Things were going his way. I was pretty sure he had visions of grandchildren dancing in his head, generations of malleable DNA all at his disposal.

Dad was barrel-chested, short-legged, and black-eyed, with hair so thick you could hardly find his scalp beneath. All that and his German chin made him a striking man, if not a handsome one. He had some Comanche blood on his mother's side, and a bunch of German and Scottish ancestors whose futures had been hamstrung back in their native countries. So they had come to Texas looking for cheap, winterless land that only needed their labor to bring forth prosperity. Instead they got droughts, epidemics, Indian raids, scorpions, and boll weevils the size of their thumbnails.

The Travises who had survived were the most purely stubborn people on earth, the kind who relied on their backbones when their wishbones were broken. That accounted for Dad's stubbornness . . . and for mine too. We were too much alike, Mama had always said, both of us willing to do anything to get our way, both of us eager to hop over a line the other one had drawn.

"Hey, Dad."

"Punkin." He had a gravelly voice, edged with the perpetual impatience of a man who never had to ingratiate himself with anyone. "You look pretty tonight. You remind me of your mama."

"Thanks." Compliments were rare from Dad. I appreciated it, even though I knew my resemblance to my mother was, at best, slight.

I was wearing a light green satin sheath, the shoulder straps fastened with two crystal buckles. My feet were strapped in delicate silver sandals with three-inch heels. Liberty had insisted on doing my hair. It had taken her about fifteen minutes to twist and pin the long inky locks up into a deceptively simple updo that I could never hope to reproduce. She was only a little older than I, but her manner had been maternal, gentle, in a way my own mother had seldom been.

"There," Liberty had murmured when she was finished, and picked up a powder brush to dust my nose playfully. "Perfect."

It was really hard not to like her.

As Dad and I danced, one of the photographers approached. We leaned close and smiled into the blinding white flash, and then resumed our previous distance.

"Nick and I are going back to Massachusetts tomorrow," I said. We were flying commercial — I had put two first-class tickets on my credit card. Since Dad paid my Visa bill, and went over it personally, I knew he was aware that I'd bought Nick's ticket. He hadn't said anything about it. Yet.

"Before we leave," I continued, "Nick's going to have a talk with you.

"Looking forward to that."

"I'd like you to be nice to him," I said.

"Sometimes I'm not nice for a reason. It's a way to find out what someone's made of."

"You don't need to test Nick. You just need to respect my choices."

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