Mr. Imperfect(9)

By: Karina Bliss

“About the past, I expect.” Marion recovered enough to hand out cups of coffee, and Kezia wished she’d kept her mouth shut. The things her youthful self had once done and said to Christian’s boy-man had haunted her all week.

“No. About the hotel.”

“It must be so awkward,” said Marion sympathetically, “deciding what to talk about, what not to talk about.” Kezia frowned at her; they’d already had this chat.

“We’re opting for the not,” replied Christian. “Is that shortbread?”

Marion offered him a slice. “Very wise,” she approved. “First loves are so embarrassing years later. All that overwrought intensity, the passion and the promises. You haven’t learned it’s safer to hold something back.”

“Marion!” Kezia caught her friend’s eye, sent a desperate message. “We’re not talking about any of it.”

“And I’ll make sure everyone knows that,” Marion soothed.

“Still scared of spiders, Muffet?” Christian used Marion’s old nickname with relish.

She paused. “We’re not talking about it.”

A smile, unguarded and complicit, flickered between Christian and Kezia. Maybe we can forgive each other, after all, she thought.

“So—” Marion reached for her coffee “—did you ever settle down, Christian?”

His grin hardened with cynicism and Kezia looked away, feeling foolish.

“Marry, beget 2.5 kids and get talked into a pet hamster?” His mouth quirked. “No, I didn’t.”

“That’s my life you’re describing, so you’d better stop there. Except my son chose a rat.” Marion looked sad again. “Come to think of it, so did I.”

“I’m sorry to hear that—” Christian stopped, puzzlement on his face. The ancient linen tablecloth that enveloped the trolley billowed like a poltergeist.

“John Jason, you come out of there,” yelled his mother, pulling up the cloth. “No wonder I couldn’t steer this thing.”

A miniature Batman clutching a white rat rolled onto the carpet, scattering papers. With a yelp, Kezia lurched forward to save them and succeeded only in splattering coffee down her best white linen suit. Served her right for trying to look coolly austere for Christian’s arrival.

“You should have left that rat at home, Batman.” Christian grabbed the child’s cape and swung him away from the few remaining stacks. “Hotel inspectors don’t like them. I have to say, I’m not too fond of them myself.”

“Roland lives here.” John Jason’s tone suggested Christian should know that. Kezia found herself crossing her arms defensively.

“The rat lives…here?”

Christian’s shortbread was at just the right height. John Jason leaned forward to take a bite. “With me.”

“You live here, too?”

“Me an’ Mum an’—” in a singsong “—Roland an’ Kezia.”

“Normally he’s in a cage.” Kezia made a futile attempt to sound responsible.

Christian asked nicely, “What about the rat?”

“I COULDN’T SAY NO,” argued Kezia.

“You have no problem saying no to me,” Christian pointed out.

“They needed a home after the farm sold. I asked Muriel to take them in. It’s temporary.”

An unwelcome suspicion distracted Christian from the beguiling sway of Kezia’s hips under the soft swish of silk-lined linen as he followed her down the narrow corridor. “Temporary.” He picked a rational figure and doubled it. “So they’ve been here six weeks?”

“Here’s your room.” She stood aside to let him pass. “It’s the honeymoon suite,” she encouraged, urging him forward.

“God, we’re talking months, aren’t we?” Through the doorway Christian found just what he’d expected—more shabby gentility perfumed with bees-wax and mothballs. He dropped his bag and hauled the lace curtains back to throw light on the room’s bones. “Quit hedging,” he demanded. “Just how long have the Munsters been in residence?”

“Three months. The rat—four weeks.”

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