Sample text for The big bad wolf tells all / Donna Kauffman.

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Counter Chapter 1

Tanzy waited in line, wondering for the umpteenth time how Sue had talked them into this. “A good cause,” she muttered beneath her breath, thinking again that she could just as easily have written a check. And saved herself the embarrassment.

“What size?” the gentleman behind the counter asked her when it was finally her turn.

“Six-and-a-half, heel or sandal. Seven, flat or sneaker.”

The guy merely looked at her. Apparently having a sense of humor was optional when being considered for a job at the Bay Area Bowl-O-Rama.

“Seven, please.”

The man grabbed a pair of what had to be the most hideous shoes she’d ever seen and slid them across the counter. And she was going to pay him for the privilege of wearing those? She sent a silent apology to her feet. “I don’t suppose you have something in a Jimmy Choo?” Again with the blank stare. “Never mind.” She gingerly picked up the two-tone baby puke green and yellow leather lace-ups and scanned the lane monitors for her name. Charity event or no charity, Sue was going to owe them all big time for this little outing, she thought as she settled in their team’s alcove.

She watched as other people began filling up the lanes and waited for the rest of the gang to show up. Dreading it almost as much as she dreaded the thought of bowling for dollars. She glanced at her watch. She still had time to run for it.

Then Rina swept in. Rina never did anything as pedestrian as walk, or even stroll. She swept. Tanzy stood and waved to her, then promptly tripped over the mile-long shoelaces. Needless to say, Tanzy wasn’t a born sweeper.

Rina stepped down into their little seating area and pulled her into the one-armed almost-hug that didn’t muss hair or makeup. “I’m back,” she announced with her typical élan. “The world can resume rotating on its axis now.”

Tanzy breathed a dramatic sigh of relief. “Thank God, the wobble was getting to me.” But she was glad Rina was home from her honeymoon. Of their group, Rina was her closest friend and confidant. Not to mention constant fodder for her biweekly column. Fortunately for Tanzy, and her readers, Rina found her occasional starring role amusing and flattering.

“What in the hell are those?” Rina was pointing to the baby puke leather rafts on Tanzy’s feet.

“Schizophrenic shoes only a manic-depressive could love?”

Rina wrinkled her nose. “I’m getting depressed just looking at them.”

“So, I assume the islands were fabulous,” Tanzy asked, almost desperate to change the subject. It was bad enough she had to wear the shoes. She drew the line at talking about them. “Your tan is perfect.” As were Rina’s sleek dark hair, designer clothes, lean model’s body, blah blah blah. Of course, Rina carried it off in a “Doesn’t everyone look this fabulous?” kind of way that made her hard to hate. Despite her own unmanageable brown curls, the occasional freckle, and eyebrows that were a bitch to keep plucked right, Tanzy managed not to be jealous most of the time. Generally that was when she wasn’t wearing baby puke shoes.

“It was utter paradise, Tanz,” Rina responded, flashing a sly smile. “We even managed to leave the yacht to see some of them.”

Rina’s third husband was Garrison West, aka Old Money. Fifteen years her senior, he barely looked it. And thanks to a team of plastic surgeons and personal trainers he probably never would. Rina was convinced the third time was the charm. Tanzy hoped she was right. More likely it was the disposable investment capital that was the charm. Given how Rina loved to dispose of her husbands’ capital, it just might be a match made in heaven.

Rina looked around the place. “How did we let her talk us into this again?”

“Beats the hell out of me. I’m thinking we just put a check on the little scorekeeper pedestal thing here and head to the lunch counter, whereupon we can stuff our faces while we watch other people make asses of themselves.”

“You know how I feel about consuming grease. But . . .” She glanced at Tanzy’s shoes and shuddered. “I’m thinking you have a plan.”

Tanzy laughed. “Just be thankful you missed out on Mariel’s ‘lunch with the girls’ last week.” She shuddered just thinking about it.

“Please don’t tell me she dragged you all to The Carousel. Again.”

Tanzy nodded, expression grave. The Carousel was the latest place for new parents to take their vaunted offspring. Amongst other things, it featured booths carved out of actual carousel horses, and pipe organ music. “And you weren’t even there to save me. I had circus nightmares for a week.”

“Oh God,” Rina whispered in mock horror. “Not creepy clown sex.”

Tanzy nodded. “Sue and I were the only ones who made it. I have no idea what happened to Sloan. So it was really above and beyond the call.”

Rina covered her hand. “I’ll make it up to you. In fact, I’m planning a little dinner party and–”

Thankfully Tanzy was rescued from what she knew was coming next, the Special Dinner Invitation for Single Friends, when Mariel and Sue showed up.

Mariel was the other newlywed of the group, married seven months earlier. She was also in the middle of her third trimester and regarded her impending parenthood like a new religion.

“Let’s hope she doesn’t preach to the unbelievers today,” Tanzy muttered to Rina, before stepping forward with a broad, teeth-clenched smile on her face. “Hi, guys. Sue, we need to talk.”

“Now, Tanzy, you promised–”

Mariel ignored their little byplay, she was too busy waving something. “I have sonogram pictures!” she sang.

Rina caught Tanzy’s eye and they shared a silent groan. “Great,” Rina managed, then turned to Sue, who was still in her club tennis duds. “Oh, bowling alley shoes are totally going to make that outfit.”

“Ha, ha. Come on guys, it will be fun.”

They all just looked at her, Mariel included, who had by now looked at the lanes, and Tanzy’s feet, and was covering her belly protectively. Whether it was to shield her unborn child from the reverberating sounds of pins crashing against one another, or the horror of the shoes, she had no idea.

“How did the lesson go?” Mariel finally asked Sue, always the polite one.

Sue smiled, all flashy white teeth and those little crinkles at the corners of her eyes that only seemed to make her look perkier. Sunny Sue, as Tanzy always thought of her. Married to Perfect Paul. They were a disgustingly happy couple, the Barbie and Ken of Presidio Heights. “Well, let’s just say I’m not going on the WTA tour anytime soon,” Sue said with a laugh. “But I beat the snot out of Paul’s sister, so that was a bonus.”

So she was Barbie with an attitude. Which was why Tanzy hadn’t slit her wrists when she discovered she’d been paired with the perennially Sunny Sue as dormmates, freshman year at UC Berkeley.

Tanzy clapped her hands together. “Whaddya say we write big checks to Sue’s charity and go eat greasy fries while watching other people in bad footwear throw heavy things.”

Sue didn’t even try to put up a fight. She knew when she was outnumbered.

They all shuffled up to one of the booths and managed to wedge into their seats. Poor Mariel barely fit. But she didn’t complain. Tanzy suspected she knew everyone wasn’t exactly thrilled with her choice of lunch venues last week.

“Wonder where Sloan is,” Mariel said.

“Probably ringing up some impossibly huge sale,” Sue said. “She could sell sculpture to a homeless person.”

“Or maybe she’s home screwing Wolfie’s brains out,” Rina added with a sly grin. “She did say Wolfgang was being very apologetic and trying hard to please her. Hard being the operative word, I’m sure.”

Sue smacked her hand. “You newlyweds, all you ever think about is sex, sex, sex.”

“And you and Paul don’t?” Rina shot back.

Sue sighed. “Not like we used to.” She grinned easily. “But no complaints from me. After five years, you don’t expect fireworks.”

Tanzy tried not to blanch at the very thought. No fireworks? After only a couple of years? She wasn’t as perkily optimistic as Sue, but she thought her friend should have at least a little problem with that scenario.

Sloan came in then, with her postmodern slinky body draped in her postmodern slinky black clothes, and her postmodern waif haircut framing undeniably flushed cheeks. It occurred to Tanzy that Sloan might be the only person who could actually pull off bowling alley shoes.

“Ding, ding, ding,” Rina said, tapping her glass with her spoon and motioning to Sloan. “I think I picked the winning scenario.” She leaned over and dropped her voice. “Of course, if I had a husband like Wolf trying to get back in my sexual good graces, do you think I’d be here given the choice?”

Tanzy just rolled her eyes. Despite the moniker, Sloan’s husband, Wolfgang, was not exactly alpha material. At least, to look at him you wouldn’t think so anyway. He was a soft-spoken artist from Austria; tall, thin, with wispy blond hair. His best features were his enigmatic blue eyes. Tanzy happened to know that was what drove Rina crazy. She had a thing about hooded eyes.

Of course, apparently so did most of the young female models Wolf used for his sculptures, as Sloan had recently found out the hard way. But they’d been trying to patch things up. She wondered if reconciliation sex was better than makeup sex.

“You have Garrison West III,” Mariel said a bit plaintively to Rina, as if getting married made a woman oblivious to all other men. Which apparently was the case for Mariel. “Wealth, power, good looks. What could you possibly see in Wolfgang?”

Rina just gave her a look. “Honey, all the family money in the world can only compensate for so much.”

Tanzy and Sue shared a look, then nodded sympathetically. Mariel simply looked perplexed.

“Never mind,” Rina said. “And don’t worry, I’m perfectly happy with Gar.” She stood and gave Sloan the one-armed semihug as she found their table. “So, I guess you only need dessert now, huh?”

Sloan gave her a spare-me look, then quickly seated herself. “So,” she motioned to the room at large, “we’re not bowling for dollars?”

“We’re writing checks and eating fries for charity,” Tanzy said, enjoying the uncharacteristic flush on Sloan’s otherwise pale face. At least someone was having great married sex. All hope wasn’t lost.

When Tanzy first met Sloan, during her rebellious underground period in college, Sloan had been the sexiest unfeminine person Tanzy had ever seen. A retro beatnik who wore Doc Martens and black clothes, with a haircut so short it defied being called a style, sporting multiple body piercings way before it was a trend, Sloan still managed to exude a slinky sexy vibe.

She was still all those things, but falling in love with Wolfgang had softened something in her. Yet rather than ruining her edge, it had somehow only made it more complex and mysterious. Tanzy had been worried about her friend lately, though, so it was good to see her smiling again.

“You have to try new things, Tanz,” Sloan said with a far more characteristic world-weary sigh. “Sometimes that means pulling yourself out of your comfort zone.”

“Yes, well, her comfort zone apparently only extends to charity events where you can wear designer footwear,” Sue said, and they all laughed.

Tanzy often thought about the odd dynamic of their little social circle, but she’d long since given up trying to figure out why it worked as well as it did and just accepted that it did. And thanked God for it. She didn’t know what she’d do without them. In fact, it was worrying about her new role in that dynamic, as the last single woman of the group, that had dominated her thoughts in the two weeks since Rina’s wedding.

She’d worried that everything would feel different today, with all of them finally together. That she’d feel somehow excluded sitting amongst her married friends.

“So, I take it things are . . . improving?” Rina pointedly asked Sloan. “Wolfie’s keeping his clogs parked under your bed exclusively now?”

Leave it to Rina to not pull any punches, Tanzy thought. But she was surprised when, instead of looking happy and smug, or faintly irritated at having her marriage put up for dissection in a bowling alley diner, Sloan flushed with what looked more like embarrassment.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Advice columnists Fiction, Stalking victims Fiction, Housesitting Fiction