A police cruiser made a leisurely turn at the corner before she opened her car door. No rush, no urgent matter to attend to, it was just time to move on. Apparently, the entire force wasn’t needed for the issue of an unknown dead man. A quarter of a mile later, the sight of a smiling, oversized egg perched on the edge of the restaurant roof announced her destination. As a kid, she used to confuse The Good Egg with Humpty Dumpty.
Daniel stood by the entrance, holding the front door open for two blue-haired ladies. One even patted his cheek. Donna chuckled at the action, knowing it would annoy her brother. She turned off the ignition, cutting the singer off in the middle of a word. Weird, she didn’t even remember turning the radio on. Her chaotic thoughts, including a mysterious murdered man and the possibility Taber found her attractive, made enough mental noise to drown out anything else.
“C’mon, slowpoke.” Her brother gestured in her direction. “I’m not going to hold this door open forever.”
Actually he probably would, but the diners inside wouldn’t appreciate the inflow of frosty air. Donna jogged to where her brother stood, but pointed the key fob back in the direction of her car. The horn beeped indicating the doors had locked. Good. She didn’t need any more surprises today.
They grabbed a table in the back, leaving an empty table between them and the next diners, where parents battled with three youngsters under four. Their primary goal consisted of keeping the children seated as opposed to being under the table. No worries about the parents eavesdropping. They would be lucky to eat.
A bored college-age female brought them water and laminated menus. She muttered something about a breakfast special before pivoting away. Donna didn’t quite catch the special, but she did notice Daniel’s perplexed expression. Oh yeah, a female he didn’t impress. That happened now and then. The menu hid her amusement. Could be her handsome brother had reached a cut-off age where he no longer appealed to the younger set.
“Lesbian.” Her low-voiced comment reached her brother as she had intended. He nodded once, concurring.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.” Daniel worked his chin to one side, then to the other side.
Faded color photographs of huge breakfasts complete with hash browns and pancakes absorbed her attention. Usually, she told them to hold the pancakes, not feeling the need for such a substantial meal, but the unexpected murder had a way of working up an appetite. Probably would go with the pancakes then. Sure, she was feeding her anxiety, but it was hers. Made sense that she’d feed it.
Her brother grumbled about something. “Un-huh,” Donna acknowledged, without listening.
“Yeah, you see it too. I wonder what the numbers are.” Daniel squirmed in his chair, craning his neck to view all the diner’s occupants. “What do you think the statistics are?”
“What statistics?” She didn’t have a clue what Daniel was yammering about. “Dead men in vacant houses?”
He held out his flat palm next to his face shielding his words from the nearby lively children. “Lesbians.”
Her eyebrows lifted as she realized she’d lost the conversational thread somewhere. “Daniel, I don’t think there are any more or any fewer than previously. People are just more open.” What did this have to do with anything? If she were a cartoon character, a lightbulb would have materialized over her head and flickered to life. Her casual comment meant to save his ego started it all.
Her brother would be forty-three in two months, not old, especially for someone who just turned fifty. His job and a gym membership kept him in shape. As a natural blond, the gray wouldn’t show as much. As for his skin, a little weathered, probably from not using sunscreen as much as he should have. Still, he carried it well, and it gave him rugged appeal. He had a good five to seven years before most women would see him as too old to be interesting. Would it devastate him when his good looks no longer merited superior service or enhanced opinions? Would the halo effect, where people assumed attractive people were smarter, kinder, just better than average people, dim as her brother aged? She remembered reading about it. At the time, she wondered if ugly people were meaner, more stupid and vicious. Didn’t seem fair considering neither group could determine their parentage.
“What?” Daniel swept a hand over his face. “Is there something stuck to my face? Toothpaste, a bit of shaving cream?”
Shaving cream? The man actually shaved before he came. No wonder he was late. “No, I was just thinking how lucky Maria was.” Good thing she wasn’t Catholic. That whopper of a lie would be a confessable sin.
A huge smile stretched his lips and reached his eyes. Her off-handed comment made him happy. Maybe she should lie more often. This might be the secret to getting along with people. Besides, it wasn’t a real lie. The server came back while Daniel was still beaming, but she kept scowling down at her pad. “Whadya have?”
Another flunkie from charm school. At least I’m not the only one. Her brother gave his order while inserting an inquiry about the server’s well-being. She ignored it. Daniel’s smile slipped a little. The server turned to her.
“I want the lumberjack breakfast, eggs over easy, sausage, wheat toast, grits, and pancakes. Bring hot sauce and a coffee pot, while you’re at it.”
The server scribbled down the order and turned without a comment. Daniel watched her go with a perplexed expression. “She must not be feeling good, or she’s still asleep.”
Was he still stuck on why he didn’t get his usual response? Seriously. “Dead man in my upstairs room, remember?”
He shook his head vigorously, trying to rid himself of his funk. “Of course, I remember. It was impossible to overlook the police cars and the medics wheeling out a body bag.”
“Wish you would have got there earlier.”
“Me, too.” He covered her hand with his warm one. “It must have been hard for you seeing the body.”
She kept her hand under his, which reminded her of their connection. Often as the older child, she thought of her brother as a guest, an interloper, not part of who she was. Her role was to look out for him, not terrorize him. She managed a few practical jokes, but that was the extent of it, especially when all he did in return was idolize her. Geesh, no wonder people liked him.
“The body wasn’t the problem. I see dead bodies all the time.” The mother wrestling her toddler gave her a startled look that had her amending her statement. “I mean, occasionally people don’t survive the surgery. A few stroke out in recovery.” She was sure that didn’t sound like a stellar endorsement for the hospital.
Chair legs screeching and childish laughter heralded the departure of the nearby family. One child escaped his parents and ran around their table screaming in the process. The curly-headed boy smiled as he lapped their table. Cute, probably another Daniel, who’d already discovered the power of good bone structure and great hair.
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