After we all settle in on the balcony, Eva says, "While we wait on the inimitable Jean-Pierre, let's play a game. It's called My Worst. We pick a topic, any topic, and everyone has to name their worst experience with it. Like, for instance... My Worst Date."
Lauren laughs, her blond hair shining in the light cast by the lanterns on the table beside her. I took a look tonight. She definitely does not have a bad butt. Hard to tell about the boobs, though.
"I come from Pascagoula, Mississippi," she says. "In my neck of the woods, romance consists of takeout barbecue and long, slow walks through the fishing-lure aisle at Walmart. Every date I've been on qualifies as my worst."
That gets a laugh from the group.
I glance at Luc to see if he realizes I wasn't lying when I told him Lauren was funny. But he's concentrating on the guitar and not her.
"My worst date," Eva says, "was with a guy who had the unfortunate name of Harold Bahls."
"Old Harry Bahls." I chuckle and settle deeper into the chaise, loving this story.
"Harry didn't only have an unfortunate name. He had unfortunate breath." Eva is reclined in the other chaise, all long and slim and looking like royalty in her black jeans and red blouse. If I didn't love her so much, I'd be green with jealousy. "I mean, it smelled like something crawled inside his mouth and died. Anyway"—she waves an elegant hand through the air—"so we were at dinner and I was trying not to look at him. When I looked at him I couldn't take his breath. But then he started coughing up blood."
Luc stops strumming to stare at Eva.
"Turns out, he'd had an emergency tonsillectomy two days before, but he was too much of a gentleman to cancel the date."
"Oh, how awful for Harry Bahls." Lauren makes a face. "It's impossible not to use both his names, isn't it?"
"What happened?" Cash prompts.
"He'd developed a terrible infection," Eva explains. "We spent the rest of our date in the ER. I would've given him a second chance. You know, once the antibiotics kicked in and cleared up that nastiness he had going on. But he was too embarrassed. He still sends me a Christmas card every year, though."
"Tell them about your worst date, Luc." Cash, who's sitting on the end of my chaise, nudges Luc's knee.
"Hell no," Luc says too quickly.
"Oh ho!" I cry. "I smell a story!"
He shakes his head forcefully, making Cash laugh so hard he has to grab his stomach. "Now you have to tell it, Luc, or I'll have Cash do it for you," I threaten. "And you know how he likes to embellish."
A muscle ticks in Luc's jaw, deepening his dimple. I think I hear the sounds of two Disney princess sighs again.
"Fine," he eventually grumbles. "Long story short, I met a woman who lived outside Fort Bragg. We went out, then we went back to her place, and..." He clears his throat. "Things progressed as those things do. Afterward, when I was leaving, I noticed a picture on her mantel. It was old and yellowed. It showed two boys holding up a big catfish on a jug line. One of those boys was my father. I know 'cause my dad kept a copy of that same photo in an album."
"Oh my Lord." My hand jumps to cover my mouth.
"Apparently, her dad was my dad's cousin," Luc says. "I knew I had kin in North Carolina, but what are the odds?"
Cash is laughing so hard he's crying. He points at Luc. "He's a bona fide, cousin-kissing redneck!"
"Cousin-kissing?" Eva hoots. "More like cousin-fu—"
"I beg your pardon," Luc interrupts. "She was my second cousin once removed. I wanna get that on the record."
Now we're all in stitches.
"What in da world?" Jean-Pierre ducks through the open window. "What's all dis rougarouin' out here?"
Rougarouing is the Cajun word that means something similar to raising a ruckus.
"We're telling worst-date stories." Eva wipes a tear from her eye. Her makeup still looks perfect. How does she do that?
"Did you tell 'em yours, cher?" Jean-Pierre's grin is evil.
"Shut it." I try to burn his face off with the fire shooting from my eyes.
"Oh ho!" Luc swings around to pin me with a look. "Now who doesn't wanna show and tell?"
"Fine." I lift a hand. Turnabout is fair play. "I may have gone out with a guy who showed up for our date wearing a T-shirt that read, 'Call me Mr. Flintstone; I can make your Bedrock.' He took me to Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers for dinner. And afterward he leaned over and said in what I can only assume was supposed to be a sexy voice, 'The word of the day is legs. Let's go back to your place and spread the word.'"
"That didn't happen." Lauren shakes her head in horror.
"Just like I told it." I hold up three fingers. "Scout's honor."
Eva hoots and slaps her knee. "I've heard that story half a dozen times, and it never gets old!"
"Wow." Cash chuckles. "Please tell me you were drunk when you agreed to go out with him."
"There may have been Jell-O shots involved. It was Eva's twenty-fourth birthday party. So I blame her."
"Oh, no." Eva wags her finger. "You can't blame that on me. He wasn't my friend. He was Curtis Southerland's cousin. And you know what they say about cousins." She makes a face at Luc.
I'm surprised my balcony doesn't come crashing down there's so much hooting and foot-stomping.
"Okay," Luc says. "That's enough of that." To keep us from giving him any more flack, he starts strumming, and Jean-Pierre pulls out his fiddle, coming in once he's figured out Luc's melody.
I would point out that we never got around to hearing about Cash's worst date, but I honestly don't care to. I don't want to listen to him talk about going out with another woman, even if it did end disastrously.
Luc and Jean-Pierre play a slow, soft ballad. When Luc opens his mouth to sing, Lauren and Eva watch him reverently. Judging by the looks on their faces, they're witnessing the rapture.
"Hey." Cash grabs my foot and leans close to whisper in my ear, "Come with me to the ball and bachelor auction tomorrow."
Chills race up my arms at his nearness. "You're not supposed to bring a date," I tell him. "That's the whole point. You're a bachelor."
"Please?" he coaxes with a grin. "I could use the moral support."
It's the please that does it.
Oh, who am I kidding? It's the smile that does it. The smile and the thought that maybe, just maybe, Aunt Bea's soiree will afford me the opportunity—and the courage—to ask him the thing that needs asking.
"Pick me up at seven." I point to his nose. "And don't be late."
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