Night Shift Page 18

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“Sure, come on. We just cleaned up after supper, but there are some leftovers if you’re hungry.”

“Nah, I’ve eaten. But I’m walking over with the wine.”

Fiji put down her phone and said, “Kiki, let’s put out those cheese straws in a bowl.”

“Company’s coming?” Kiki said, trying not to sound too eager. Kiki’s face lit up at the prospect of having someone else to talk to besides her sister. Truth be told, Fiji felt the same way.

“Manfred, and he’s bringing wine. So if you could get out some glasses? They’re on the second shelf of that cabinet.” Fiji pointed.

Thirty minutes later, the three of them were sitting around the wicker table in the shop portion of the house. Fiji had rolled her office chair around the counter for the third seat.

She understood that the conversation was stilted, but she didn’t really know how to cut the thread of awkwardness. She and Manfred had a comfortable relationship. Adding Kiki to the mix had put in roadblocks.

Oh, her sister could have a conversation . . . the famous people she’d “happened” to meet, the odd customers who’d come into the mall clothing store where she worked. The punch line of each story was (always) Kiki setting them straight in their opinions and life styles with a pithy phrase or put-down.

Manfred was very polite about the lopsided conversation. He could say “Really?” or “You did not!” as well as the next person.

But Fiji became more and more embarrassed. Finally, she was compelled to stem the tide. At the next pause in the monologue, she jumped in. “Why are you going to Killeen, Manfred? Do you have a private reading there?”

He smiled ruefully. “Yes, but a nonpaying one. I won’t tell you the whole long story, but I owe my lawyer one. You remember Magdalena, I’m sure.”

“She’s dating Arthur Smith now, isn’t she? You’re just a cupid, Manfred!”

He made a mock-modest face, and bowed.

“The sheriff and his lawyer sort of knew each other, but Manfred brought them together,” Fiji said in an aside to her sister.

Kiki had taken the change of subject with good grace, and was doing her best to look interested. Possibly she’d remembered conversation is a two-way street.

“Tomorrow I’m giving Magdalena’s mom a private reading. The first time we scheduled it, her mom had to cancel. But tomorrow, I’m driving to Killeen to clear the board.” He said this with more relief than Fiji would have expected.

“Has Magdalena been bugging you about it?”

“You have no idea,” Manfred said, shaking his head. “She’s tenacious, which makes her a great lawyer. But she’s a very uncomfortable person to owe a favor to.”

“How far is Killeen?” Kiki said.

“It should take about three hours to get there,” Manfred said. “Oh, by the way, Feej, I called Teacher and he jumped at the chance to ride with me. I figured as long as I was canceling out a favor I owed, I might as well cancel another one, too.”

Fiji smiled. “I like your reasoning. It’s a good thing to be square with Teacher.”

“The guy who left his truck in front of your shop?” Kiki said, to make it clear she was feeling left out.

“You met him,” Fiji said. “He just texted me to tell me a tow truck would be coming early in the morning to get the pickup out of the way.”

“Want some more cheese straws?” Kiki asked their guest, determined to insert herself into the conversation.

“Oh, I’m not company,” Manfred said easily. “I’ll get my own.” And he did.

After twenty more minutes, Manfred made leaving sounds. He offered to wash the wineglasses, but Fiji said, “I give you a pass on helping this time, since you brought the wine. You have to get an early start in the morning, anyway.”

After he’d departed, Kiki could hardly wait until the door slammed behind him before she began asking questions. The fact that Manfred was a real Internet presence had escaped her until this evening. She wanted to know all about him.

Fiji answered the questions she could and shrugged at the questions she couldn’t. She did point out that Manfred was at least eight years younger than Kiki, whose face went sour at the reminder.

“It’s like you’re telling me I can’t flirt with anyone in your precious little town,” Kiki said. Her voice was sharp and her face was hard.

Fiji made herself pause before she snapped back. She gave Kiki’s accusation a minute’s thought. “I’m just pointing out facts,” she said. “Flirt with all of them, if you want.” She spread her hands to indicate the buffet of men available in Midnight. “I didn’t think you’d be interested in someone whose age is so different, that’s all.”

“Same difference as between you and the Diederik boy,” Kiki said meanly.

“What?” Fiji had turned away to dry the last glass. Now she swung to face Kiki again.

“Well, he is really tasty looking,” Kiki said with a smirk. “And he doesn’t look at you like he’s thinking how old you are.”

Fiji exhaled heavily, trying to control her impulse to jump on her sister and beat her about the head. But a thread of honesty kept her from it. It was true that when Diederik was helping the Rev dig graves in the pet cemetery, with his shirt off, it was hard not to think about him . . . carnally. If she just happened to be there at the time. But all Fiji had to do to bring herself back to reality was to remember Diederik as he’d been less than a year before, a very little boy who was really scared.

That memory was cold water. Ice water.

“Kiki, I really don’t want to hear that again. I’ve known that boy since he was a toddler, and I don’t even want that idea to cross my own mind, much less anyone else’s.”

“Oh, Fiji, I was just kidding!” (She hadn’t been.)

“Don’t kid anymore.” Fiji let the water out of the sink. “I’ll put the dishes away in the morning. I’m going to read for a while, and then I’m going to bed. Do you need anything else?”

“No, I’m just fine.” Kiki looked angry because she felt guilty, and Fiji thought there should be a word for that. Guilter? Anguilty?

“See you tomorrow.” Fiji escaped to her room, shutting the door behind her with great delicacy.

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