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Stepbrother Charming(8)

By:Nicole Snow

“Honey! There you are!”

I turn toward Mom's voice and see her sitting in a stylish tall booth. And – what the hell? – she's not alone.

I can't get a good look at the guy next to her until I slide into the free seat. When I do, he looks vaguely familiar, but my brain can't place him. He's about her age, broad shouldered and generally well built with just a hint of a gut. His face is nice, except he's rocking some thick ass glasses that make him look like my Chem 101 professor.

“Claire, this is –“

“Gary Sterner.” He smiles, jabs his hand toward me. I take it, and he gives me a powerful shake. “I sincerely hope this isn't too rattling for you. Your mother assured me this would be the best way to make an introduction, so...here I am!”

I can tell by the way he's talking that this guy is a blend of distinguished rich guy and slightly awkward nerd. My stomach starts to tighten up when I think about why the hell's he's here at all.

“Don't tell me...this is your new campaign manager?” I blurt it out and guzzle water. Jesus, my throat's so dry from last night.

I just want to get this disaster over with, and find out how royally fucked our family's going to be for the next year.

Mom laughs, loud and a little childish. She gives my question a big fat no by wrapping her arms tight around the rich geek's neck – way closer than anything that would be professional or platonic.

I frown. Mom hasn't dated in ages. Hell, being a strong single woman who survived after being left by the anonymous deadbeat who made me was always a big part of her election narrative.

“No, honey. Gary's much more special than that.” She pauses and looks at him. Talk about puppy love. “I...I don't know how else to say this...”

Holy shit. I'm sitting up so straight my spine hurts. Mom's never at a loss for words.

“Claire, your mother's a married woman now,” Gary finishes for her. “I know it's sudden –“

“So sudden!” Mom squeals, squeezing his arm with her hands. “We didn't want to make a big spectacle. Gary's got way more cameras to worry about than I do. Claire, I cut my trip to Vegas short for this. As soon as he proposed, we headed up to Alaska on his jet. Had ourselves a small, private ceremony in Denali Park. It wasn't even a ceremony, really – just us and a priest, maybe a few grizzlies roaming around behind us. It was beautiful.”

No joke, I can feel my heartbeat in my eyeballs. It's like they're about to explode. I grab my water and swallow the whole thing, tipping the glass up high so it blocks my view of them.

“Claire, honey? Are you okay?”

I don't answer until my cup empties. The glass bangs the table hard when I set it down. I shake my head for like the hundredth time today.#p#分页标题#e#

“I'm...Jesus Christ, Mom! Married? I didn't even know you were seeing anyone!”

She frowns. It pains my heart to see the big smile melting like that.

Fuck. I don't like it, but I can't bring myself to totally ruin this special moment. I reach past Gary's hairy arm and pinch Mom's.

“It's okay. I'll get over it. It's just going to take some getting used to, that's all.” I try to be reassuring.

Gary clears his throat. “Yes, well, I apologize again for dropping this on you without any formal notice. It was a whirlwind, Claire. One thing I'm never going to be sorry for is putting a ring on this little lady's finger. I hope you understand – we're really in love. I'm going to take the very best care of your mother.”

They lean in and kiss. There's that stupid head shake again. My prim, upbeat, and always guarded mother is acting like a goddamned teenager. It's seriously freaking me out.

I lift my hand and summon the waiter over for more water while the two love birds are at it. Mom doesn't even look up while I order a glass of good Malbec and another pitcher. Like, an entire pitcher of water, just for me.

“I don't get it,” I say, stopping until they're both looking at me again. “Gary, you mentioned something about media? Jesus, I thought this whole thing was about my mom's Senate campaign.”

Mom smiles and pushes a finger to her lips. “That's our little secret, baby. And it's one I'm not ready for quite yet myself.”

Gary looks at her and winks. “Come on, Mandy. I think I know all about your ambitions, and I'm right behind you all the way. You're going to make us all proud.”

Mandy – fucking Mandy? Is he serious? Nobody's called my mom anything besides Amanda or Miss Frost or Representative for as long as I can remember!

“Gary!” Mom clucks her tongue.

“Just teasing, dear, I'm sure that decision's a few years off. Your mother was talking about my own little paparazzi issues, Claire,” Gary says as I start massaging my temples. “Since 1997, I've been the founder and CEO of –“