A Wrench in the Works
“All right, all right,” I said. Throwing on a T-shirt and sweatpants, I followed him down and opened the door in time to see a sleek black limousine come to a stop in the driveway. “Looks like the queen has arrived.”
I walked down the front steps just as my sister stepped regally out from the backseat of the limousine. She wore jeans and a bejeweled denim jacket, and her long blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, making her look like a teenager.
At first glance, the two of us didn’t look related at all. But if you looked beyond our hair color, you’d see that we were obviously sisters. When Chloe turned sixteen she decided to become a blonde and never looked back. I had always been happy with my wavy red hair, despite its occasional similarity to an unruly mop.
I grinned and felt my heart stutter in my chest. It had been too long since she’d been home.
Hurrying down the walkway, I grabbed her in a hug. “Come here, you. Gosh, you look so great! I can’t believe you’re finally here.”
“I can’t, either. We’re going to have so much fun.” She held me at arm’s length. “How do you keep getting more beautiful?” And then she pulled me close again.
“In case you hadn’t noticed, my hair is a wet mess.”
“And yet you still look fabulous. I should hate you.”
I laughed. “We’re definitely related. I was just thinking the same thing about you.”
She smiled. “Aren’t we lucky?”
“And just a little full of it.”
Still laughing, we both turned as Gus Peratti jumped from the driver’s seat. “Hey, Shannon.”
“Hi, Gus. Haven’t seen you in forever.” I gave him a quick smooch on the cheek. “Thanks so much for taking care of Chloe.”
“Not a problem.” He jogged around to the open trunk and began pulling out at least a dozen various suitcases, a hanging wardrobe bag, and several large duffel bags.
“Did you bring enough stuff?” I asked.
She smoothed her hair back. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m very important.”
I chuckled and pulled her close. “God, I’ve missed you.”
Chloe wrapped her arm around my waist and rested her head on my shoulder while Gus loaded up on suitcases and traipsed up the steps and into the house.
“Is everything okay with you?” I asked her.
“Wonderful,” she said a little too emphatically. “I’m just so glad to be here.”
Chloe stared up at the house we had grown up in. Like so many of the homes in town, it was a Queen Anne Victorian with the usual charming affectations. I had painted the entire house white with touches of sky blue trim a few years ago, which was a big change from the previous multiple-color style of dark browns and blues with forest green trim and a splash of beige here and there. I had also replaced the clamshell shingles covering the top half of the house with horizontal wood siding that matched the rest of the exterior. It gave the house a clean, tidy look that I loved.
“It looks so peaceful,” Chloe whispered.
She couldn’t have given me a better compliment. “I hope you like it.”
“I love it.” Her eyes narrowed. “Wait, did you replace the bay windows?”
“I did.” Originally there were three narrow sash windows that I replaced with a gracefully bowed, single piece of glass.
“Wow. That’s a showstopper.” She climbed the ten steps up to the front porch and walked over to study the bay window up close. “The glass itself is curved. How did you do that?”
“It was tricky but I found a glazier in Eureka who rose to the challenge.” Tricky was one way to put it, I thought. Pain in the rear would be more accurate.
“Thanks. That means a lot.” And it reminded me that Chloe hadn’t been home to visit in over five years. Oh, we talked on the phone or Skyped every other week or so, and Dad and I had traveled south to see her a few times. To this day, I still didn’t know why she didn’t come home more often. Maybe she would finally open up to me on this trip. I could only hope.
Gus came back out, grabbed two more large bags plus two smaller bags, and easily walked back up the front stairs to the door.
“We’d better help,” I said.
We jogged down the steps to the car. I grabbed a duffel bag and a couple of the smaller totes. Chloe picked up the last three shopping bags and we followed Gus into the house.
“Where would you like these?” he asked.
“Oh, just leave them here and we’ll take them upstairs eventually.”
“A couple of these bags are really heavy,” Gus said. “Let me take them upstairs for you while you two get reacquainted.”
He was going above and beyond the call of duty, but that was what friends were for. “Thank you, Gus. Chloe’s room is down the hall, the third door on the left.”
“My old room?” Chloe said.
“Do you mind?”
“Absolutely not.” She clapped her hands together. “It’ll really feel like I’m back home. Actually, I’m getting a little emotional just thinking about it.”
I grinned. “That’s only fair since I’ve been freaking out for weeks in anticipation of your arrival.”
“Why?” Chloe looked surprised. “The show is going to be a blast. I’m so excited you’re doing it with me.”
“I’m pretty excited, too. Also scared to death, but I’ll snap out of it.”
She gave a light shrug. “If we screw it up, we’ll just do another take.”
“You make it sound so easy,” I said with a laugh.
“It will be.”
Gus made two more trips upstairs and then took off, but not before Chloe tried to tip him.
He politely refused. “Your company made us a very generous deal while you’re in town, so tips are not necessary.”
“Then how about if we take you and Emily out to dinner later this week?” I said.
“That sounds perfect. Good to meet you, Chloe.” He winked and strolled out the door.
Chloe waved, then sighed. “God, he is a beautiful man.”
“That’s the consensus. And Emily sure thinks so.”
“He told me he went to school with you, but I don’t remember him.”
I laughed. “How could you forget him?”
“I have no idea.” She shook her head and stared at the door where Gus had just departed. “I guess I was a little self-absorbed in high school.”
“Weren’t we all?” I led the way into the kitchen and while feeding Robbie and my pretty orange-striped cat, Tiger, and cleaning their water bowls, I told Chloe the story of Gus and Emily and how the ghost of Mrs. Rawley brought them closer together.
“That is so amazing,” she said, taking a seat at the kitchen table. “So the ghost led you to the wall where she’d hidden her diary?”
“Yes. It was pretty bizarre to see paint cans flying through the air and the chandelier swinging all on its own.”
“Oh my God, you’re giving me goose bumps.” She rubbed her arms briskly. “Will you tell that story on the air?”
“You really want me to?”
“I do. That’s exactly the sort of thing that viewers love to hear, especially when it’s connected to an old home like this story is.”
I took a breath to fortify myself. This whole showbiz thing was new to me. “Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Great.” She pulled out her phone and began to type. “I’m just making myself a note.”
Robbie finished his nibbling and scurried over to the table, where Chloe patted her knees in invitation. The friendly Westie immediately jumped onto her lap and settled in for some petting, scratching, and stroking. Not to be outdone, Tiger curled herself around Chloe’s ankles and made herself at home on top of her shoes.
“I love your little creatures,” Chloe murmured.
“They love you, too. Do you have any pets?”
“No. My old boyfriend was allergic, or at least that’s what he always told me. Now that’s he’s gone, maybe I’ll get a cat.”
“You should. It’s nice to come home to someone who’s absolutely thrilled to see you.”
She laughed. “It probably helps that you’re the one feeding them.”
“That’s the bargain we’ve struck. I feed them and they love me.”
She put her elbow on the table and rested her cheek in her hand. “I could use some unconditional love.”
As if on cue, Robbie turned and licked her chin.
Chloe laughed and gave Robbie’s ear a soft scratch. “Thank you, Robbie. See, that’s what I’m talking about.”
“So, speaking of your old boyfriend . . . what ever happened to Joe? You never really said.”
She gazed at me. “He turned out not to be the dreamboat I described when I first met him.”
“It’s my own fault.”
“But you lived with him for two years.”
“We had fun for a while. I thought we would get married. I love his parents. I still miss them. But you know, when the guy you’re living with turns around and gets another girl pregnant, it’s usually a sign.”
“Ugh. A really big sign. What an idiot.”
“It’s okay. I’m too busy to have a relationship.”
I sat down across from her, anxious to change the subject to something a little less upsetting. “So, it’s almost five o’clock. Do you want to unpack?”
“Not really. Do you mind if we just chill out for a little while?”
“Do you want to take a nap?”
“God, no. But I would love a glass of wine.”
“We are definitely related.” I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and poured two glasses, and then we walked back to the living room to relax. Tiger and Robbie followed, naturally, and we all settled down on the big comfy couch.
“So tell me about your life,” I said, after waiting for her to swallow her first sip of wine. “The show is going well, I know. And you always look so smart and beautiful, even when you’ve got paint on your hair.”
She groaned. “You saw that episode, did you?”
“Yes.” I had finally managed to binge-watch three seasons of the show and while I would never admit that little fact, I was prouder than ever that Chloe was my sister. She was truly talented. “That same thing happened to me a few years ago and it took weeks to get the paint out. Now I never paint a ceiling without wearing a hat. Which isn’t easy with this head of hair.”
She waved her hand at me. “That’s another thing you should mention on the show. Any little details or stories or advice. The viewers love it.”
“Speaking of viewers, you know you’ve got a lot fans in town. I hope you’re ready for the adulation.”
She laughed. “It never gets old.”
I scrunched a pillow and leaned back into the cushions. “It feels like forever since I saw you last. So tell me everything. The show is incredibly popular and your book is selling like crazy, that has to feel good.”
“The book.” She shook her head in wonder. “I’m in shock over how well it’s doing.”
“I’m so proud of you.” I smiled at her for a long moment. “Never mind that I’m consumed with jealousy.”
She laughed again as I’d hoped she would, but then she sobered. “I feel bad for not calling more often, but it has been sort of a whirlwind. My head still spins at the thought of all those personal appearances. I just got back to the show last week and now we’re on the road again.”
“Was your crew happy to see you? I hope everyone is treating you well.”
“They are the best. Everyone’s so supportive.”
“Good. I remember when you first started on the show, you said that Blake Bennett was really nice and helpful to you. Is he still? Was he happy about your book?” Blake was Chloe’s co-star and one of the producers of Makeover Madness. He was married to Bree, the executive producer.
“Oh, yeah, Blake has been totally supportive. I asked if he wanted to help with the book and he said, no way.” She chuckled. “He figures I can do all the work and if the book is a hit, it means more people will watch the show.”
“I guess he’s right.” I swirled my wineglass. “Oh, speaking of Blake, I met his wife Bree last month when she was up here scouting for locations. She was, um, nice. A very interesting woman.”
Chloe’s smile tightened. “Seriously? Nice?”
The last thing I’d wanted to do was diss Chloe’s boss, but Chloe obviously knew me too well. “I guess she was a little full of herself.”
“That’s more like it.” She gave Robbie an absent scratch. “Don’t get me wrong, Bree can be nice when she wants to be. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often.”
My gaze narrowed. Okay, I might not see my sister often, but I could still read her expressions and emotions fairly easily. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing really.” Chloe shrugged and reached for her wineglass. “Except that right before I left the studio this morning, she fired me.”