"Mr. DeGraf probably don't like cigarette butts all over his yard either." I smile at him as I step through the gate.
The house is a pueblo-style adobe, fashioned with the rounded corners and soft silhouettes of the Pueblo Indian dwellings, not the more boxy, territorial adobes like the Anglos built later on. It's a lighter shade of chocolate than the wall, with the traditional blue doors and windows that are supposed to keep out brujas, or witches. I follow the stone walkway past a huge old lilac bush, its branches drooping under the weight of fragrant purple clusters about to explode into bloom, and cut across the patio. A swimming pool sparkles aquamarine in its underwater lights.
The kitchen is in the usual pre-party state of controlled chaos. It's small but elegant, with granite countertops and the kind of appliances favored by people who can afford to hire kitchen designers. When the screen door bangs behind me, Dale makes a big show of looking at his Rolex.
"Avery. So glad you could join us." His dark eyes give me a once-over. "Polished and pulled together as usual, I see." The guy standing beside him rustles a wrinkled yellow invoice. "Thanks, Tom. Put the wine over there. Under that table."
I try to secure my hair. "They didn't have my name on the-"
"Jesus Christ, you reek. What did you do, take a bath in Opium?"
"Eternity. I'm sorry. Rita broke the bottle and it went everywhere, and I didn't have time to-"
He gives me The Look. "Never mind. Fix your tie and run out to the--shit! Where's your eyes?"
"My eyes are in my head, Dale. I lost my contact."
I notice the muscle in his jaw twitching. "Well, try not to look at anybody."
"Right. In fact, why don't I just walk around with my eyes closed."
"Don't you have some sunglasses?"
"Sure. You can say I'm blind." My arm sinks up to the elbow in the big, brown backpack and I pull out my Men in Black shades.
"The guesthouse . . ." Dale shuts his eyes briefly, as if praying for strength. ". . . is just the other side of the pool. Get six trays of baby rellenos out of the fridge, okay? And try not to make any stops along the way."
Juana is arranging vegetables into a sunburst of color around a bowl of chili aioli. She rolls her eyes at me as I slip out the door, squeezing against the wall to let two guys with giant arrangements of weird looking flowers pass by. Rita's right, I need to get another job. The problem is, Dale and Kirk have one of the best catering companies in Santa Fe, and it would be hard to make as much money with anybody else. That's even assuming I could get on.
I take a big gulp of fresh air. I can get through this. I'll just have to be on full battle alert all night. And I can't see a thing with these damn glasses. I take them off, fold them up, and hook them on the second buttonhole of my shirt.
Steam lifts into the air from the pool's glassy surface, and I find myself wondering how warm they keep it. What it would feel like to glide through the water with crisp strokes, then climb out into the cold air, disappear inside a huge soft towel, and sit in the garden drinking good red wine and listening to the crickets. It's a pretty stupid fantasy for someone who can't even swim. My steps crunch in the gravel.
The guesthouse is private, screened from the big house by coyote fencing and a cluster of aspens. When I open the arched door, I hear voices coming from another room, but I ignore them, poking my head into a bathroom and a coat closet before I find the tiny kitchen. In the refrigerator, I pull out six stacked trays of mini chiles rellenos and start to back out. Now the voices are closer.
". . . get rid of some of this stuff. It's like a damn shrine. Or you could set up a collection box and some candles and-" A man's laugh. "Come on, admit it. It's one of his best."
The foregoing is excerpted from Isabel's Daughter by Judith Ryan Hendricks. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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