Hands full of dishes, Kate made her way carefully to M.T.’s sink. It was almost nine o’clock at night—and, at long last, Girl’s Night Dinner had come to a close. Penny had cried off ten minutes ago, claiming she needed to be up early for client meeting in the morning. And, though Kate was tired too, she steadfastly refused to leave M.T. to deal with this mess all by herself.
“You don’t have to do that,” M.T. said, coming up to quickly relieve Kate of the plates. “I can take care of it.”
“I insist,” Kate told her, and without another word, turned to grab the wineglasses off the dining room table. Coming back into the dimly lit room, she added: “Besides, doesn’t the saying go something like: you cook and I clean?”
Maggie laughed good-naturedly. “Yeah, not in my experiences.”
“Mine either,” Kate admitted ruefully, setting the stemware down on the counter. “At the McDonald residence, we had staff for that.”
“I sort of got that impression.” M.T. winked.
“Hey,” Maggie asked softly, as she bent down to load the dishwasher. “Can I ask you something?”
M.T. stood up, staring at Kate. “Forgive me for intruding but I got the impression…”
M.T. shook her head. “Well, I got the impression there was something you wanted to say this evening. Only—perhaps someone didn’t give you the chance?”
“How did you—” chuckling, Kate smiled. “Was I that obvious?”
M.T. seemed to consider this seriously. “No. It was only when Penny started talking about Jake—”
“Yeah,” Kate said, brows furrowed. “What was up with that?”
Maggie shrugged. “If I could answer that, Penny wouldn’t be quite the mystery that she so often is, now would she?”
“I don’t mean to pry but…well, for two women who just recently got into a fight about him, you seemed oddly disappointed in her sudden change of heart this evening.”
“Yeah.” Kate blew out a hard breath. “I guess.”
“And I got the feeling that, once she started in on her…I don’t what that was, campaign for Jake? You seemed uncomfortable, like she’d gotten it all wrong—because,” M.T. paused meaningfully here: “because those texts that were putting such a smile on your face, they had nothing to do with Jake, did they?”
Pulling at the hem of her shirt, Kate shook her head. “No.”
“But they were…something. Something special? Penny was right about that?”
“You would have made a good detective, you know?” Kate teased.
“So I’ve heard,” Maggie murmured drily. She waited a beat then added: “Do you want to talk about it? Whatever it is?”
Kate’s fingernail rubbed roughly against the stitching of her shirt. “They were from Jackson.”
Kate’s nose twitched. “We’re going out on a date. That’s what he was texting me about.”
M.T. leaned back comfortably, her hips resting beside the countertop. “And Penny kind of stole your thunder?”
Kate’s shoulders hunched. “I just—I thought she would be over the moon. I couldn’t wait to tell her. We were fighting and I thought: she’s going to be so thrilled. This will end it—this stupid fight we’re in.”
“Wait,” M.T. made a flicking gesture with her hand. “Are you telling me you’re going on a date with Jackson for Penny’s benefit?” Her tone was incredulous.
“No! No, that’s just it,” Kate wailed, “I’m going out with him because I…because I hadn’t realized until he asked that it was what I’d been waiting for all t his time—for him to finally do it, make a move.”
M.T. smiled. “Ah.”
“The thing with Penny, I just thought—” Kate hung her head. “I don’t know what I thought.”
“You thought that this date could serve as a double blessing? You get the guy, and for extra measure, make up with your friend along the way?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
M.T. came up to Kate, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “Kate, she will be pleased. Honestly. All that Penny wants is for you to be happy. That’s all.”
“Yeah, but you heard her: she doesn’t think I’ve been allowed to seriously consider Jake. She’ll think that, if I picked Jackson, it was because she’d put such a bad taste of Jake in my mouth, and that my decision was tainted or something.”
“Do you think that’s what happened?” M.T. countered. “That you picked Jackson because you felt like you couldn’t pick Jake—not and keep Penny as a friend?”
“No, of course not,” Kate proclaimed.
Maggie gave her shrewd look. “So what are you so worried about then?”
“Of being robbed the happiness I’m feeling right now. I don’t want any doubts or second-guesses to cloud that. I couldn’t stand for it—not now, not after everything that’s happened. I want to be excited…and I want everyone around me to feel the same.” Kate scrunched up her nose. “No, actually, I think I need that. I need that support.”
“Okay, then let me say this,” Maggie said, her voice soft, serious. “I am so incredibly happy for you Kate.”
“Thank you,” Kate whispered.
Opening her arms, M.T. beckoned Kate forward. “Come here,” she instructed. With a watery smile, Kate stepped forward, straight into the warm embrace.
“I think this calls for another glass of wine,” M.T. murmured.
Sniffling, Kate pulled herself back upright. “Okay.”
“And Kate,” M.T. said, as the younger girl half-turned, reaching for the remaining bottle of cabernet.
“You deserve this. Don’t forget that. So revel in your happiness, and look forward to that date. Don’t let Penny get in the way of how you feel—she wouldn’t want that.”
The next afternoon, M.T. found those last, prophetic words sourly tested. Begrudgingly entering the LitLiber bookstore during her lunch hour—the library society at Good Shepherd had practically coerced to splurge some of the church’s slush money on new reading material. It would seem the congregation members hardly ever checked out books there, and, as such, it was decided that the reason for this lay in the dusty, out-dated selection at hand. M.T. had her doubts about the solid logic behind this argument, but she had neither the heart nor the energy to fight them on this. So, instead, she’d resigned herself to this shopping trip.
It was as she was making her way inside when something—or rather someone—caught her eye. And, incidentally enough, it was neither Kate nor Jake.
No, it was Penny.
Penny, who, for once in her life, was sporting a pair of tight-fitting jeans and a light blue pullover—no bangles, no ruby-red lipstick, no flowing scarves or fake eyelashes; her hair was let loose down her back, its tight black spirals ending almost past her elbows. It was Penny. Only, she looked nothing like herself. And, even more intriguing, she was emerging out from behind a door at the far side of the building, a door with the word Private marked on the glass paned window there.
And, for the pièce de ré·sis·tance: as the door swung shut behind her, M.T. got a clear view of another person standing inside the room with the door marked Private on the glass paned window. Jake.
A Penny who liked nothing like Penny was coming out of Jake’s office…
Stopping dead in her tracks, M.T. watched her sister saunter forward. And she was sauntering—a sort of casual stroll with a little too much swish of the hips, with an undisguisable femininity about it. Add it all up and something wasn’t quite…it wasn’t quite—
M.T. smiled, a saucy rather knowing grin settling over her lips.
“Hey Penny,” she called out when the name’s owner came within hearing distance. Jerking hard at the greeting, Penny’s eyes dilated and it become abundantly clear that, despite the fact that M.T. had been standing virtually right in front of her for quite some seconds now, Penny hadn’t noticed her. Which only made Maggie’s smirk widen.
“Oh…hey Mags.” Penny’s smile was tight, twitchy.
“Was that Jake’s office I saw you coming out of just now?”
“Uh…” Looking back over her shoulder, as if to verify that it was, indeed, the same door in question, Penny hesitated. “I mean…yeah, I think so.”
“You think so?”
“Yes,” Penny hissed. “It’s his office.”
“Oh.” M.T. nodded. “I didn’t realize you were such good friends.”
Penny frowned. “We aren’t. That is…” She waved one arm futilely. “We aren’t.”
“No?” M.T.’s interest piquing at Penny’s flustered look, she added: “A business thing then?”
M.T. laughed. “You’re being awfully evasive.”
Eyes narrowing, Penny pulled herself up to her tallest height. Hands on her hip, she cocked her head to one side. “What’s with the third degree?”
Hands raised immediately, M.T. laughed. “No third degree. Just making conversation. Or, at least I’m trying to.”
Penny’s voice was sharp. “About me and Jake?”
M.T. pursed her lips. “Well, you’ve got to admit it’s a little…curious.”
“Seeing you here today with hiim, especially after last night’s sudden and rather vehement defense of his—” M.T. searched for the right word, “—attributes.”
Penny sighed. Loudly.
Maggie loped her purse over her shoulder. “What?”
“Don’t nose in on my business.”
M.T. saw with quiet despair the reddening of Penny’s cheeks, the tautening of her jaw. She was putting up walls again. “Okay,” the older sister promised. “I won’t. But—” reaching out, Maggie touched Penny’s arm. “Just so you know, I’d love an invitation sometime.”
“To hear about your business. I’m a good listener.”
The sisters stared at one another.
Then M.T. took a deep breath. “But I’m actually talking about Kate’s business.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Penny snapped, and once again, her hands were on her hips, her big brown eyes small.
M.T. held up a hand. “Your being in Jake’s office, that doesn’t have anything to do with her, does it?”
“Okay. Here it comes…”
“Here what comes?”
“No. No lecture,” she countered. “Just…she looks up to you, Penny. She really listens to you. Be careful not to abuse that power.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Penny insisted. “At least, I’m trying not to do that anymore. That’s why—”
M.T. sucked in her lips. “All I’m saying is, it’s easy to accidentally…ah, over-correct.”
“I’m not doing that.”
Penny shifted uncomfortably and then, looking up quickly, as though the thought had only just occurred to her, Penny asked: “So—what are you even doing here?”
“What else?” M.T. asked. “Buying books.” Checking her watch, Maggie grimaced. “Which I should probably get to—my lunch hour is almost up.”
“Oh,” Penny said. “Yeah. Sure.”
Maggie took a step forward and somehow, without quite knowing why, and being far too anxious to ask, she found Penny half-turning to match her steps.
“So—how late did Kate stay over last night?” the psychic asked casually as Maggie led the way toward the Religion aisle.
Maggie couldn’t quite meet that look, as she turned down the appointed row of bookshelves. “Oh…a little while longer.”
“What did you talk about?”
M.T. paused, as though trying to recall. She didn’t want to lie exactly, but telling her the whole truth wasn’t an option either…
As it turned out, M.T. didn’t have to answer her at all.
Because Penny beat her to it: “I meant to ask her, but conversation being what it was…” the usually chill psychic’s voice came out fast—rushed: “She had a private rehearsal with Jackson a couple nights ago—you know, for the play the LitLiber is throwing later this month.” Penny looked at Maggie meaningfully.
But M.T. only stared back at her blankly.
“Did she mention it by any chance?” Penny asked, and this time there was no disguising the impatience in her voice. There was no mistaking her sharp glance.
“Why would she?”
Penny ground her teeth together. “I don’t know. I just figured—”
M.T. fluttered her lashes innocently. “What? Was there something in particular that thought she’d want to talk about?”
“No. I don’t know—!” Penny crossed her arms over her chest. And then, just as quickly, she sprang them loose. “It just seemed like a thing she would’ve done. You know Kate.”
Maggie pulled out two books. “Was there something in particular you were hoping she’d talk about?”
“You’re third-degreeing me again.”
“You started it.”
“Yeah? Well, clearly you’re better at it.”
“Hazards of the trade, I suspect.”
“So what?” Maggie asked, grabbing for another book. She didn’t even bother with the title. Whatever.
Maggie turned to stare up at Penny. “Did she what?”
“Talk about it!”
Hoisting the books against her shoulder, Maggie took a step backward, toward the aisle-way. “Penny, if you want to know how her rehearsal with Jackson went, then ask Kate.”
“You are so infuriating some times,” Penny grumbled.
“And it’s only going to get worse in the next twenty seconds,” M.T. replied.
“What was it you said to me not five minutes ago?” M.T. asked, her voice just a shade shy of haughty.
“I said a lot of things.”
“Don’t nose into my business. That’s what you said.”
“And what did I say back.”
Penny gave a great, gutsy sigh. “I don’t remember. I can’t be expected to listen to every speech you prattle on about.”
“Never mind. That’s not—” M.T. sighed. “The point I’m trying to make here is this: take your own counsel…and stay out of Kate’s business.”
“You’re not going to tell me what she said, are you?”
Maggie turned toward the check-out counter. “I’m not even going to tell you if she said anything at all.”
“Call her,” Maggie insisted, throwing out the suggestion over her shoulder.
“I’m not so sure she’s taking my calls yet.”
“How do you know?”
Stopping, resigned, M.T. looked back at Penny. She lifted one eyebrow pointedly: “Are you taking hers?”
“If she ever bothered to pick up the phone and dial my number…yeah,” Penny mumbled down at her feet.
“Exactly.” Resolutely, Maggie picked up walking again. “Call her,” she threw out a second time, just for good measure. With her back turned on Penny, the physic was unable to see the extremely satisfied look on the pastor’s face as she made her way to the register.