Sorry to disappoint, I said, dropping my backpack on the floor with a thud. Can I help you strip the house of valuables, or do you prefer to work alone?
Janices laughter was like a little wind chime on your neighbors porch, put there exclusively to annoy you. This is Archie, she informed me, in her business-casual way, he is going to give us twenty grand for all this junk.
I looked at them both with disgust as they came towards me. How generous of him. He obviously has a passion for trash.
Janice shot me an icy glare, but quickly checked herself. She knew very well that I could not care less about her good opinion, and that her anger just amused me.
I was born four minutes before her. No matter what she did, or said, I would always be four minutes older. Even ifin Janices own mindshe was the hypersonic hare and I the plodding turtle, we both knew she could run cocky circles around me all she liked, but that she would never actually catch up and close that tiny gap between us.
Well, said Archie, eyeing the open door, Im gonna take off. Nice to meet you, Julieits Julie, isnt it? Janice told me all about you He laughed nervously. Keep up the good work! Make peace not love, as they say.
Janice waved sweetly as Archie walked out, letting the screen door slam behind him. But as soon as he was out of hearing range, her angelic face turned demonic, like a Halloween hologram. Dont you dare look at me like that! she sneered. Im trying to make us some money. Its not as if youre making any, is it now?
But then I dont have your kind of . . . expenses. I nodded at her latest upgrades, eminently visible under the clingy dress. Tell me, Janice, how do they get all that stuff in there? Through the navel?
Tell me, Julie, mimicked Janice. How does it feel to get nothing stuffed in there? Ever!
Excuse me, ladies, said Umberto, stepping politely between us the way he had done so many times before, but may I suggest we move this riveting exchange to the library?
Once we caught up with Janice, she had already draped herself over Aunt Roses favorite armchair, a gin and tonic nestling on the foxhunt-motif cushion I had cross-stitched as a senior in high school while my sister had been out on the prowl for upright prey.
What? She looked at us with ill-concealed loathing. You dont think she left half the booze for me?
It was vintage Janice to be angling for a fight over someones dead body, and I turned my back to her and walked over to the French doors. On the terrace outside, Aunt Roses beloved terra-cotta pots sat like a row of mourners, flower heads hanging beyond consolation. It was an unusual sight. Umberto always kept the garden in perfect order, but perhaps he found no pleasure in his work now that his employer and grateful audience was no more.
I am surprised, said Janice, swirling her drink, that you are still here, Birdie. If I were you I would have been in Vegas by now. With the silver.
Umberto did not reply. He had stopped talking directly to Janice years ago. Instead, he looked at me. The funeral is tomorrow.
I cant believe, said Janice, one leg dangling from the armrest, you planned all that without asking us.
It was what she wanted.
Anything else we should know? Janice freed herself from the embrace of the chair and straightened out her dress. I assume were all getting our share? She didnt fall in love with some weird pet foundation or something, did she?
Do you mind? I croaked, and for a second or two, Janice actually looked chastened. Then she shrugged it off as she always did, and reached once more for the gin bottle.
Excerpted from Juliet by Anne Fortier Copyright © 2010 by Anne Fortier. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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