All the little liars, p.1
All the Little Liars,
Part #9 of Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris
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This book is for the people who asked me what Aurora was up to in the years since I wrote about her. I might have never attempted another book about my favorite librarian if it had not been for all of you.
I welcomed the help of my teacher cousin, Cathryn Harris, my long-suffering continuity maven, Victoria Koski, George Fong (former FBI agent, now Security Director for ESPN), and my fellow writer Jeff Abbott, who agreed to be Robin’s best man at the wedding. If I have misused or misunderstood any information given to me, it’s my fault.
Aurora Teagarden Bartell and Robin Hale Crusoe were joined in holy matrimony on December 8 at Saint James Episcopal Church. Officiating at the ceremony was the Rev. Aubrey Scott. Providing music was Emily Scott.
The bride, in an ecru lace dress, carried a bouquet of bronze chrysanthemums. She was attended by Angel Youngblood of Lawrenceton. Mr. Crusoe was attended by his friend Jeff Abbott, of Austin, Texas.
Following their honeymoon in Savannah and Charleston, the couple will reside in Lawrenceton. The bride is employed by the Lawenceton Public Library. The groom is a noted fiction writer.
Ms. Teagarden and Mr. Crusoe request that in lieu of gifts, well-wishers make donations to the Salvation Army or the Sparling County animal shelter.
“They only made one mistake,” I said, reaching over to the butter dish. I applied butter liberally to my scone. Yum. I had gotten crumbs on my bathrobe sleeve, and I shook it off over my plate. This was a good morning. I was keeping everything down.
“What’s that? Oh, the ‘Bartell’?” said Robin. He was reading the Atlanta paper, which made the local paper seem pretty puny. Robin looked like he was about to commute to work, in khakis and a long-sleeved shirt. In Robin’s case, that meant he’d walk from the kitchen to his study. “I guess they wanted to establish your status as a twice-married woman.”
I’d never taken my first husband’s name. We’d been married three years before I’d become a widow. “I guess I’ll always stick to Teagarden.”
“Better than Crusoe,” Robin muttered.
I smiled. “Matter of opinion.”
“How are you feeling?” He looked over the top of the paper.
“Like I’m not going to throw up.” It was a moment-by-moment thing, for me.
“Hey, the day is looking good already.” He smiled back at me, but he seemed anxious. Robin had never dealt with a pregnant woman before, and I could tell he wanted to ask me six times a day how I was doing … if his good sense didn’t tell him that would drive me crazy.
I’d never been pregnant before, so we were even.
My phone buzzed. I glanced down at my messages.
“It’s tomorrow afternoon when we go to the OB-GYN?” Robin knew that, but he had to double-check. “And if we don’t like her, we’re going to look elsewhere, right?”
“Absolutely,” I said firmly. “We’re going to Kathryn Garrison, to check her out. Listen, I just got a message from her office. She had a cancellation! I can get in this afternoon.” I was pretty excited. I gave my new husband a thumbs-up gesture. “She comes highly recommended.”
“By whom?” Robin was nothing if not suspicious; since he was a mystery writer, that came naturally.
“Melinda used her for both pregnancies, and she said Dr. Garrison was great. Angel went to Dr. Garrison, too.” Melinda was my stepsister-in-law, and Angel had been my bridesmaid. They were both sensible women.
“Define ‘great.’” Robin was all about the information.
I raised my hand so I could bend the fingers down as I ticked off points. “She took all Melinda’s worries seriously. She took enough time at each appointment to make sure Melinda knew what was going on with the baby. Angel said she was low-key and calm. And Dr. Garrison served her residency in a Miami clinic specializing in threatened pregnancies. That’s good, right? I’m not a young mother, especially to be having a first child.” I made an effort to sound matter-of-fact. Rather than scared.
“Honey, you’re going to be fine,” he said. “It’s so important that we both trust this doctor. I don’t want you to have a moment’s worry.”
“Well … that ship has sailed,” I said ruefully. “That’s why I haven’t wanted us to tell anyone. I’ve been waiting for the doctor’s exam. I just want to be sure everything is okay.”
“I understand,” Robin said.
And I knew he did, though we hadn’t been married three weeks yet. But we had dated before my first marriage, and we had picked up where we left off when Robin had returned to Lawrenceton after my widowhood.
“So we can tell your mom tonight.” Robin grinned, his smile looking large in his narrow face. “How do you think she’s going to react?”
“Half of her is going to be saying ‘You had to get married! Oh, Aurora!’ and the other half is going to be saying, ‘A grandchild of my own at last!’”
Robin laughed. “My mom’s going to be doing cartwheels. She’d given up on me contributing to the grandchild tribe. Ours will be her fifth.” He laid the paper on the table and carried his dishes to the sink. I knew when I got home from work the dishwasher would be loaded and the coffeepot would be washed. Yet another reason Robin was going to be a better husband and father than my own dad. Dad had cheated on my mother, and she’d told him to leave. He’d married again, and now he lived across the country in Los Angeles. The best thing my dad had done after he’d left was father my half brother, Phillip, who was living with us now.
Thinking of Phillip, I noticed there was still silence from his room. “Listen, has Phillip said anything to you about his grades?” I asked Robin. “He should have taken all his semester tests but one.”
It had taken many, many e-mails and phone calls before we’d finally come to an agreement with Phillip’s private home-schooling network. I’d never before heard of such a thing. I’d been aware my younger half brother didn’t go to a brick-and-mortar school, but that had been the limit of my knowledge.
I had discovered that this system of home-schooling classes was nationwide. The California division had agreed to let him finish the semester online, though Phillip was in another geographic location. Our father had at least done some of the work on the California end, which was only right and proper. Frankly, I’d been a little surprised.
“I don’t think Phillip’s ecstatic about sitting in his room with his laptop,” Robin said. “But he’s definitely been listening to the classes, and he has his last semester test today. Tomorrow’s the start of the semester break, just like the local high school.”
“You don’t think going to a public school will be a shock for him?”
“I think he’s looking forward to January so he can go to high school with his new friends. And he knows that with his mom gone, and Phil being a—well, a careless father, staying here is the best choice for now.”
“Phil” was always my fath
“I can tell you for sure,” Robin continued, “that Phillip hasn’t said anything about wanting to see his dad.” Then he reverted to our favorite topic. “So tonight, I can call my mom and my sisters?”
“Okay,” I said, half-scared and half-thrilled. “If Dr. Garrison says everything is fine, we’ll tell everyone tonight.”
I looked down at my bathrobe. “Pretty soon, we won’t have to tell them, they’ll just look at me and know.” I was amazed, excited, and anxious about the changes in my body. Bigger boobs, yay! Thickening waist, boo.
“What was your birth weight?” I asked.
“Gosh, I don’t know. We’ll ask my mom when we tell her. Tonight,” Robin said pointedly.
“Okay, okay.” While it would be fun to share our happy news, we would not be in our little bubble any longer. We’d have to listen to all the input and speculation other people would offer: about what gender the baby would be, about whether a birth was safe for a first-time mom over thirty-five, about what we should name the baby. I looked forward to the excitement of sharing this happiness, but I was reluctant to let go of our secret joy.
Just at this moment, I had to pick out something to wear to work on this cold, brisk morning.
It was a little less than two weeks until Christmas. If ever I was going to wear my new red sweater, a gift from my mother, today was the day. It would only fit for maybe another month. I felt seasonal and bright in the sweater and some gray slacks as I pulled on my coat.
As I passed by Phillip’s room, I could hear him talking on his phone. “Bye, little brother,” I called. “Good luck on your test!”
“See you later,” he called back. “I’m not worried about the test. Hey, can we have some chili tonight?”
“I think we have some in the freezer. It’s labeled. Just get it out to thaw.” I’d been close to Phillip when he was a child, but when my father and his wife moved to California it had become harder and harder to keep connected, until Phillip got old enough to e-mail me. Just a couple of weeks before, Phillip had hitchhiked from California to Georgia when he’d grown too angry at his father to stay at home. (I was still recovering from the retroactive fear.) Most guys wouldn’t be too pleased to have a new wife’s little brother living in the same house, but Robin had been totally cool about it. He really seemed to like Phillip.
Robin had gone back his office, a big room at the back of the house lined with bookshelves. As I paused to pick up my purse in the living room, I could look down the corridor to see him peering intently at his computer. He was already in the work zone. Robin was a best-selling writer, and he’d just gotten his editorial comments on his new book. His work ethic commanded my admiration.
I said “Good-bye,” but quietly. I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get an answer. When Robin was with me, he was all the way with me, but when he was working, he was just as absorbed in that. I was learning about living with a writer. I had loved Robin’s crime novels long before I’d ever met the man and loved him, too. I left through the kitchen door into the carport to get in my Volvo for the fifteen-minute ride to work.
A few years before, it would have taken me eight minutes, tops. Growth equals traffic. Lawrenceton, once a shady small town, had been annexed into the urban sprawl of Atlanta.
There’d been a fender bender on my usual route, and I was delayed for several minutes. By the time I turned in to the employee parking lot behind the library, I was almost late. I hurried to the staff door, wishing I’d worn gloves and a scarf when the cold hit me. I had my keys in my hand, because this door was always kept locked.
I stepped right into the large room that had been added onto the library a few years before. It encompassed a small kitchen, a break area, and the book-mending area. On the other side of the hall lay the glass window through which I could see the desk intended for the secretary of the library director, and beyond that the door to Sam Clerrick’s office. Right now the outer office was empty and bare, and the door to the director’s office was firmly shut.
I put my purse into my little locker before I stepped out into the hall, heading for the door leading into the main floor of the library. Two women were between me and the door, and they were deep in conversation. Janie Spellman, the computer librarian (as I thought of her), was chatting with Annette Russell, the new children’s librarian. Since I’d been substituting in the children’s section for some months while the position had been advertised, I’d been delighted when Annette had been hired.
Annette and Janie were both in their early twenties, and they’d become friends quickly. Janie was vivacious and had a quick smile and vivid coloring, while Annette had a more relaxed personality. Her hair was in short dreadlocks with touches of platinum. She looked like a dandelion. I liked it.
They both said “Hey, Roe!” with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Janie said, “Roe, I read the paper this morning. Is it true?” She looked almost hurt, which I found odd. She’d made a big play for Robin, but now she seemed to feel that I should have confided in her.
“That I got married? Yes, it’s true. Robin and I got married.”
“That’s why you took a long weekend off?”
“Uh-huh. We had a little honeymoon.” I smiled at them brightly, and Annette smiled back. Janie looked less … beneficent.
“So are you Mrs. Crusoe now?” she asked, as if she meant to be a bit insulting.
“No, I’m sticking with Teagarden,” I said. I could not figure what Janie’s beef was. She had known, even when she flirted with Robin, that he and I were dating.
“And you got married at the church?” Janie said, her voice even sharper.
I finally thought I understood. Janie wanted to know why she hadn’t been invited.
“We did,” I said agreeably. “Just family and one attendant apiece. My second wedding, you know.” Plus, we’d been determined to get it done quickly and as low-key as possible.
I wasn’t sure Annette did know that I’d been married before, and Janie had clearly forgotten. They both nodded, looking a little abashed. “That makes sense,” Annette said.
“Anything new and wonderful happening?” I asked, to change the subject. I wasn’t especially interested in whether Annette thought my private arrangements made sense or not. Perhaps I was being overly touchy.
“New, anyway,” Janie said, looking excited again. “Sam’s interviewing some women who’ve applied for the secretary job today.”
“Wonderful.” I meant that from the bottom of my heart. “He feels so much better when he’s got a filter between him and the public.”
“Well, the downside is, one of them is Lizanne Sewell.”
I’d been on my way out to the main floor of the library. I stopped and turned back to face Janie. “What’s wrong with Lizanne?” I said. I hoped my eyes weren’t actually shooting sparks.
“She’s not the brightest tool in the shed,” Janie said, as if that were well known and should be obvious to me. There was a moment of silence.
“I didn’t know Lizanne was applying for this job,” I told Janie. “But she’s a longtime friend of mine. Sam could hardly do better. She could handle his schedule very easily.”
I left through the door into the library, so I wouldn’t be obliged to wrestle Janie to the ground and deal out some hurt.
* * *
Perry Allison was working the checkout desk, and though he was busy with a patron, he gave me a nod in greeting. Perry’s mother, Sally, was a friend of mine, though she was at least fifteen years older than me, and Perry was becoming a friend, though he was younger. He’d had a hard life, and it was going to get harder. Sally was ill.
I went behind the counter to the employee computer area, and prepared to send out overdue notices. This was automatic to a certain extent, since the miscreants’ names and addresses popped up when the books or other materials had not been checked in. But some people didn’t have e-mail
There were few people who didn’t have a phone or an e-mail address. My task was to notify those people. Naturally, there was a form letter to plug in that would take care of it. All I had to do was actually type the patron’s name in. I’d heard Janie laughing about this backwoods method. She was proud that you could apply for your library card over the Internet. Proud.
The library had always been an unofficial community center, with books, magazines, newspapers, and all kinds of reference sources available to everyone. Free! I had always been amazed at how fortunate people were to have a public library, though almost every citizen took it for granted. But now, with a roomful of computers available to everyone, Lawrenceton Library had become even more vital. There was a constant flow of patrons from the moment the doors opened to the time they were locked. The computer have-nots used the public system to check out the help-wanted sites and for-sale sites. They looked up breaking news. They read the classified ads. They took their online courses, like my brother was doing at home this very minute (I hoped). Of course, the haves didn’t even need to come into the building any longer. They could check out e-books and audiobooks online.
I appreciated the fact that the library was so relevant to the lives of the people it served. Just because you couldn’t afford a computer shouldn’t mean you couldn’t access all this amazing information, right? And if you were elderly or disabled or just super busy, it only made sense to offer books in the easiest way available.
But I’d always been a printed-word person. I loved holding an actual book. I loved turning the pages. I loved carrying a novel around with me, getting it out of my purse at lunch to read for a few minutes in the break room. I had never been able to fathom what people did with their free moments, if they didn’t read. But I’d become increasingly aware that this attitude aged me, made me more like seventy-six than thirty-seven.
All the Little Liars by Charlaine Harris / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes