This crying, the subtle combination of gasping and a low, mucousy rattle that meant she wasn't even taking the time to blow her nose, I knew to be a cry over love. I mouthed the word to Tom, "Dumped." He raised his eyebrows and gave a sage shrug. Although it was a shame to think that such a thing had happened, neither of us was exactly surprised. Portraits of both Trey Bennett's great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather hung in what they called the library of the country club. I had seen them over the years at wedding receptions and other inescapable social obligations. All the firstborn Bennett sons were named Conrad, though the grandfather was called Sergeant and the father was called, even on the most formal of occasions, Sport, and Trey was called Trey, indicating, one would think, that he was the third when in fact he must have been the sixth or seventh. The Bennett family was exhausting and inescapable in Raleigh, huge and recklessly blessed. They all had perfect teeth and Mercedes SUVs. They flew their own planes to their own summer houses and ski chalets. Their name was chipped into the marble of every hospital, art museum, and social register in the tri-city area. From what I could track in the paper over the years, they tended to marry young and reproduce enthusiastically, so Trey Bennett was a bit of an anomaly, being single at thirty-five. He was considered by everyone, especially his mother, to be the very definition of eligible. What he had been doing dating a thirty-year-old public defender who didn't even know any debutantes, much less been one herself, was a mystery to all of us, and now poor Kay was sobbing, her heart having been skidded across the pavement at top speed yet again.
"Baby," I said. "Deep breath. Come on now, try to relax."
Tom sat back down at the table and started to eat the dinner that was already halfway to cold.
"I-baaa," Kay said. "I-baaa."
"It's okay," I said. I pointed at my plate and Tom slid it over to me. The pasta was getting stiff, but I managed to force a few pieces into a twirl around my fork.
I settled in and listened to Kay cry. Sometimes that's all a mother can do. Truth be told, Trey had made me a little uncomfortable. Not that he wasn't nice. He was extraordinarily nice. His manners would have made Cary Grant feel inadequate. But whenever they stopped by our house, I was always aware that a family dog long since dead had peed on our only Oriental rug and left an irregular stain. When Trey was in the house, I wished I hadn't come straight from the dance studio in my leotard and warm-ups. I wished I'd showered. The few times he came to dinner, he complimented everything lavishly, but I was always plagued by images of matching serving utensils and Venetian water glasses. After the third time, Tom and I decided it would be less stressful to take them out.
"Do you want to come over?" I said to Kay. I looked at Tom, mouthed the word "Sorry."
He shook his head. "No, no," he mouthed back, and then he made a beckoning gesture with his hand for her to come on over. Tom was a good father.
On the other end of the line I could hear Kay put down the phone and blow her nose, which was a sign that she was in the first stages of pulling it together. Then she picked up the receiver and inhaled hugely. I didn't make a sound for fear of distracting her. "Married," she said, and then began to cry again.
"Trey's getting married!" I said. Tom leaned over the table. "I can't believe that. Oh, sweetheart, that's awful. That's too much."
"Me-e-e-e-e," she wailed. "Marry me!"
I stopped and cocked my head toward my shoulder as if this might make me hear better. "He married you?" I asked quietly.
Cry, cry, cry. "Asked," she managed to gasp out. "Asked me."
I clamped my hand down over the mouthpiece. "Mother of God," I said to Tom. "He's asked her to marry him."
Excerpted from Step-Ball-Change by Jeanne Ray Copyright 2002 by Jeanne Ray. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart 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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