Excerpt: Headlights, Dipsticks & My Ex's Brother

Excerpt: Headlights, Dipsticks & My Ex's Brother

Book 1: Edie's Automotive Guide

Chapter 1

Edie’s Tip #42: Blinker fluid is not a real thing, regardless of what those auto shop guys tell you.

There was only one ballroom in Grenadine, Michigan and it wasn’t big enough for the both of us. I had no choice but to take a third—or was it a fourth?—champagne glass to keep my fist from finding its home square in my ex-fiancé’s throat. The fizzy bubbles tickled my tongue as I silently congratulated myself on my self-restraint. His perfectly tailored gray suit was new, but the purple striped tie had been a birthday gift from me two years ago. Asshole.

His dark brown eyes snapped to mine before quickly blinking away. He wouldn’t come over; confrontation wasn’t his way. He would just spend the evening passive-aggressively glancing at me and then telling my family he hoped I’d found “some stability” after our “devastating breakup.” The comment would spiral, as small-town gossip always does, and make everyone believe I’d gone off the deep end. And business would continue to plummet.

New life motto: never ever, ever (again) get romantically involved with someone you share a business with.

An arm slipped around my shoulders and I looked up from my seat to find the bride, my younger cousin, Kristy, smirking at me. “Edie, what’s with your ‘I’m going to punch someone’ look? Make sure to use your elbow so you don’t break your thumb. Again.”

“Yeah, yeah, love you too.”

She kissed the top of my head and I smiled, leaning against her awesome cleavage. “Your boobs look phenomenal,” I said, garnering a raised eyebrow from a nearby table.

“Don’t they?” her new husband Sam said reverently. “Thanks for picking this dress.” The ivory dress complemented the pink undertone of her light skin, and it fit like a glove. He was right; she did look absolutely smashing. He smiled at her, love and adoration filling his eyes. I bit my lip, looking away from their intimate expressions. I was so happy they’d found each other.

I gestured between the two of them. “Congratulations, by the way! Sam, you should’ve run while you had the chance. You’re a hostage now.”

He kissed Kristy’s hand, the movement making her beautiful ring sparkle under the thousands of twinkle lights. She thumbed the gold band adorning his dark brown skin, her lips curving into a smile. “Hostage, huh?” he asked. “Good thing I have great company.” Kristy rolled her eyes but smiled so large my cheeks hurt for her.

I leaned over. “How many ‘Oh! I didn’t know he was black’ comments have you gotten so far from the extended family?” I whispered loud enough to get a few more side-eyes from the neighboring table.

Kristy and Sam looked pointedly at each other, then back at me. She tilted her head to the side. “Now, are we counting the rehearsal dinner when Great-Grandma Mildred told him he was a terrible waiter?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Or that weird second cousin of yours who thought I was LeBron James?”

I winced. “Dude. You really shouldn’t play anything sportsball related.”

He pointed at me. “Accurate.”

Kristy was the athletic one—basketball, soccer, golf, she could do it all. Sam, however, couldn’t catch a ball to save his life. But he looked damn good in a pair of glasses, holding a book.

My mother’s laugh cut through the ballroom and a chill ran down my spine, successfully chasing away the warm, fuzzy fog of alcohol. That was my mother’s patented I’m-about-to-make-a-scene laugh. I threw back the rest of my champagne, preparing for the apocalypse. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” I muttered, grabbing Kristy’s drink from her hand and finishing it too. It had far too much rum—any rum was too much rum, let’s be honest—but I soldiered through. I was a trooper like that.

“Holy crap,” Kristy whispered, leaning over my shoulder. “Is that? No way…”

“Is that my mother with her hand on Will’s chest?” I narrowed my eyes, the seven layers of mascara protesting the movement. “Why, yes. Yes, it is.”

The man I’d thought I’d spend the rest of my life with was leaning just a little too close to my mother and smiling as she whispered something in his ear. My stomach tightened in the same way it had when I’d found that three-week-old banana in my duffel bag after a road trip. To be fair, it could also have been all that alcohol combined with a lack of food…

“Why? How?” Kristy whisper-shouted. “He definitely wasn’t invited! Is she trying to hook you guys back up?”

“I mean, her older sister’s daughter is getting married at twenty-four, a whole year younger than her daughter. I wouldn’t put anything past her.” I shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. By Kristy’s well-practiced side-eye, I could tell she wasn’t fooled for a second. “What? Don’t look at me like that. I want nothing to do with him. I thought throwing all his stuff out the window was a pretty clear message.”

She frowned, then turned to study Sam, who had suddenly become very interested in his cufflink. “Samuel, what do you know?”

He sighed, resignation pulling his shoulders forward. He clasped her hands in his and kissed the top of each one. “My dearest wife, please forgive me.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re so weird. What am I forgiving you for?”

He flashed her a sheepish grin. “Your mom told me Aunt Cynthia demanded a plus one. You were stressed out, so we didn’t tell you and just added an extra chair to the family table.”

She cocked her head and studied him before nodding. “Good man. I would’ve committed homicide if I had to do that seating chart one more time, and then I wouldn’t have gotten to wear this pretty dress.” They kissed, eliciting some hoots and a chorus of silverware clanging against long-abused glasses. Kristy smiled but growled low. “Remember to use plastic glasses when you get married,” she advised me before kissing her husband again.

My mother’s laugh rang out again. Jami, my older brother, weaved through the crowd in his impeccable navy blue tux. He jumped onto the small platform that housed the head table. “Mayday, mayday,” he said. “We better start the speeches before Mom laughs again. Twice is a warning. Three times is detonation.”

As best man and self-appointed disaster-avoidance coordinator—a full-time job, really—Jami’s advice was heeded immediately. Kristy and Sam signaled their DJ to begin the speeches as I stood to snag another glass of champagne from a passing waiter. My brother snatched it out of my hand and put it back on the tray. “Nuh-uh. Your cheeks and ears are turning pink and you have the maid of honor speech to give. How drunk are you?”

I snatched it back. “Whatever. I’m as pale as a ghost. I turn pink with a four-degree temperature change.”

He grabbed it back from me and drank it down. I pouted.

Then my mother laughed for the third time. Into a microphone.

We both froze.

“Ground control to Major Tom,” I whispered, spinning to face the woman—nay, dragon—who had somehow given birth to both of us. All of the delicious alcohol in my bloodstream disappeared and I was suddenly stone cold sober.

Mom’s ice-blonde curly hair was perfectly straightened and coiffed, magically hiding the devil horns beneath her impressive mane. Her floor-length ivory ball gown—because really, what else would she wear to her niece’s wedding?—glittered as she lifted the microphone to her mouth with one hand and grabbed Will’s hand with the other.

“Oh, this can’t be good,” Jami said.

“The last time she had a microphone, she told my senior class about getting knocked up with me!” My face heated from the memory. Grenadine High School Class of 2010’s prom had gone from fairytale-themed to an abstinence lecture the moment my mother found the microphone.

Jami shook me, breaking me out of my trance. “I’m going to go stop her before this turns into her telling the entire summer camp at the closing ceremony that you started your period.”

I let out an exaggerated sobbing sound. “Oh my God, I forgot about that.” Guiding me by the shoulders, he pushed me down into my chair and then speed-walked toward my mother. I slumped, defeated. Why was I always the one she made look bad in these microphone exchanges?

I glanced around, trying to see where our plan for speeches had failed. Kristy and Sam hovered on the edge of the dance floor with a shocked Aunt Mary blustering about the order of speakers. Really, Aunt Mary should’ve known better than to leave any audio-visual equipment unattended. My mother could sniff out a microphone hidden on Ford Field during a blizzard in mid-February.

“Now, I know it’s Kristy and Sam’s day,” my mother said, and I pressed my palm to my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. No, she most certainly did not know that. “But I believe they would be as happy for me as I am for them!”

“Timber!” I whispered, making a falling sound, followed by an explosion. Kristy’s other two bridesmaids, both cosmetology school friends who clearly hadn’t known what they were getting into with this wedding, looked at me with identical expressions of horror. I slid lower in my chair, hoping to slip under the tablecloth and stay there until tomorrow morning.

“This afternoon, William asked me to marry him and I said yes! Third time’s a charm, ladies. So from one happy couple to another, congratulations, Kristy and Sam!”

The sound of screeching brakes filled my ears and the room tilted sideways.

No.

Nope.

God, I was drunker than I thought.

I needed an ambulance. I was obviously dying. At least hallucinating.

I couldn’t have heard that right.

But then why was my mother—MY MOTHER—locking lips with my ex-fiancé in the front of a ballroom? Lips that until eight months ago had belonged to me? Oh God, he was dipping her backward like a scene in a movie. He’d never kissed me like that.

I was losing my mind.

This didn’t mean what I thought it meant.

Like, she wasn’t engaged engaged, right?

Glancing around the room, I spotted the table of my mother’s best friends—the pack she’d brainwashed into adoring her—swooning. Why had Kristy even invited them? Stupid small-town inclusiveness. One of the Barbie bombshells was dabbing at her eyes with a monogrammed handkerchief. Another was clapping above her head as if she were in church and the pastor had just said something enlightening.

My gaze snapped to Jami, who was wrestling the microphone from the dragon’s claws. “Congratulations to my mother and William and cheers to Kristy and Sam,” he said quickly before turning off the device and handing it back to the DJ. My mother raised her right hand and gave her queen wave, making sure to blow a few kisses to the audience.

I needed to move. I needed to get out of here. I couldn’t feel my legs.

Kristy let out a sob, then slapped her hand over her mouth, turning away from me. Sam had his arms around her, probably trying in vain to convince her that the reception wasn’t ruined. I wanted to tell her not to cry because it would destroy her amazing makeup. But if I’d been in her shoes, I’d probably cry too.

Oh God, I’m not crying, am I?

Somehow, I unclenched my fists and pressed my palms to my scalding cheeks. No wetness. Good. I wasn’t crying. I could not show weakness in front of these hyenas. I could already hear the gossip from the nearby tables.

“Did she know?”

“Obviously not, look at her face.”

“Poor thing. I can’t even imagine losing a guy like William to my mom.

“There must be something really wrong with Edith if he prefers Cynthia over her.”

The DJ, clearly struggling for what to do next, mumbled something about the rest of the speeches happening soon before playing an upbeat swing track. I wrapped my arms around my middle, trying to convince myself I didn’t want to throw up.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on tuning out everything around me. Deep breath in, deep breath out. When I was 90 percent sure I could stand without fainting, I opened my eyes and searched each corner of the room, looking for a quiet and easy exit. I didn’t want to make Kristy’s wedding even more of a spectacle, but I couldn’t stay here another moment. I knew she’d understand.

The closest door to me was the kitchen, which probably had a back door. I plastered a giant smile on my face and stood, gripping my clutch as if it were a life preserver. Good. You didn’t fall flat on your face. Now, put one foot in front of the other. Smile, SMILE!

I had to make it past three tables and fifteen feet of open floor before I walked through the swinging double doors. I could do this. Each step was carefully calibrated to be fast, but not look like a run, and not cause me to fall on my ass. I hated heels.

I waved and smiled to those calling my name, even uttering an “I’ll be right back!” and “So good to see you!” in a clear and calm voice. Move aside, Frances McDormand. The Oscar goes to me.

I slipped into the kitchen and inhaled a deep breath of relief, leaning against a nearby wall. I tucked my hand just below my collarbone and concentrated on slowing my heart rate before I passed out. All this wedding needed was an ambulance. Especially an ambulance after my ex had announced his engagement.

José, my employee Rosa’s older brother, walked by with a tray of full champagne flutes. Without saying a word, he handed me one and gestured to the kitchen’s back door. I made a mental note to give Rosa a raise. I lifted my glass to him in a silent toast and all but sprinted into the humid July evening.

New life motto: never ever, ever (again) go to another wedding.