“Piper Lee, honey, what do you think of this one?”
Mama held up a frilly purple bridesmaid’s dress.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s great if you want me to look like an eggplant.”
Mama made a worried sound under her breath as she sorted through the row of dresses. “Piper Lee, I’ve shown you fourteen and you’ve hated every one. Why are you being such a fuss box?”
“Because she’s a pain,” Ginger said, as if it was some obvious fact.
“Shut up, Ginger.”
“You watch your tongue,” Mama said. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m not trying to be a fuss box, Mama. You just haven’t shown me anything i like.”
“And what would you like to wear to our wedding— your flight jacket?”
Our wedding? As if I had any say in the matter. as if I were in favor of Mama’s changing her name from Heather deluna to Mrs. Ben Hutchings. Who’d want to give up a pretty name like Deluna anyhow? It brought to mind some big, lovely bird soaring through the clouds. but Hutchings? That sounded like a rabbit cage.
Mama said when I grew up and met the right man, I’d be more than happy to take his name. but I wouldn’t, not ever. That’s on account of my name is special. My daddy named me—Piper Lee deluna—exactly six years before he crashed his single-engine Piper cub into the Atlantic.
Mama turned to Ben. He was sprawled in a brown padded chair in the corner of crosby’s Wedding shop, his long legs stretched out in front of him and his arms crossed over his white t-shirt. Except for the little smile he gave Mama, he looked like he was napping with his eyes open.
“If you ask me,” he said in a soft, deep voice that rolled from his throat, “I think it might be time to make the decision for her.”
Ginger clapped her hands. “Let me pick, daddy. I want the green one.” she whirled back to Mama. “Can we go with the green dress, Heather? i just lo-o-o-ve that one.”
I chomped on the inside of my cheek to keep from gagging. What a weenie. I’d just as soon roll around in poison oak as get snared with her for a stepsister.
Mama smoothed Ginger’s long, blond hair. “I like the green one, too, kiddo.” She pulled it off the rack and held it up. “Piper Lee?”
The dress was made of lime-colored shiny stuff on top with a spinach-green skirt. I didn’t own anything green except for an olive baseball cap that said Flying Ain’t Just For Birds. “It’s so boring, is all,” I said.
Ginger smiled as if she were made of molasses. “It would go good with your dark hair.”
I fought back the urge to punch her. It was another of those dumb Ginger comments, the kind that made her sound all grown up instead of ten, like me.
Mama pulled two more dresses off the rack — a baby- ish-looking pink one with white sleeves, and a yellow one the color of what my cat, Mowgli, sometimes spit up on the rug. she held the green dress beside the other two, and her eyebrows shot up. “Okay, these are the three finalists. Which do you hate the least, Piper Lee?”
The pout on Ginger’s face told me she didn’t think it right I got the final pick. I took my time, watching a frustrated bumblebee bump the store window as it tried to reach the fake hydrangeas on the other side. I finally pointed to a dress still on the rack. “That red one there isn’t too bad.”
Mama’s eyes got real wide. “Hh, Good Friday, Piper Lee.”
“That wasn’t one of your choices,” Ben said.
“Well, maybe we ought to look in some other places,” I said. “Maybe Savannah or something.”
Mama pressed her lips together, building enough steam to bake a sweet potato. “There’s no reason to drive fifty miles when we’ve got perfectly good choices right here. now, pick a dress.”
No way was I picking Ginger’s favorite — that left either the pink or the yellow. Did I want to look like a six-year-old or cat spit-up? Which one was Ginger’s least favorite? I tried to read her face, like when we played penny poker. it was a gamble, all right.
“I guess the pink one.”
Ginger’s face scrunched. “I don’t like that one. can we please get the green one? Please, Heather?”
Mama fixed Ben with a pleading look. “This is a no-win situation. Help me.”
I held my breath. The bumblebee kept bumping the window. Poor little guy wanted in as badly as I wanted out.
Ben got to his feet. He rubbed a thumb and forefinger over his mustache. “Hmm.” He winked at Mama. “I think both girls would look real pretty in the yellow one.”
Ginger slapped her legs. “Da-a-a-d,” she wailed, loud enough to make one of the store ladies frown in our direction.
Ben cut off Ginger’s complaint with a sharp wave of his hand. “Hush, now. You’re getting the yellow one, end of story.”
Mama wilted with relief.
“I kind of like the yellow one,” I told Ginger. “It’ll go good with your hair.”
She glared at me like a hungry cat eyeing a rat.
Ben chuckled. “Shoot,” he said, placing a hand on the back of Ginger’s neck. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you girls actually liked each other.” Mama clicked her tongue and got a real wishful look in her eyes.
Ben dropped me and Mama off at seven that evening. together, we trudged up the stairs to our second-floor apartment, the July air so damp and sticky that you could’ve wrung it out like a washcloth.
“When are we gonna get the air conditioner fixed, Mama?”
“It’s not broken, Piper Lee. It just needs to be refilled with coolant.”
“So how come you don’t just fill it, then?”
“On account of it costs eighty-five dollars. besides, once we move to Ben’s, it won’t matter anyway.”
“Don’t remind me,” I muttered. I wiped at the bangs that stuck to my forehead. nothing sounded as good right then as a dip in the ocean. “Can we go swimming?”
Mama dropped her shopping bag onto the sofa. “Oh, honey, not tonight. We just got home and I’m beat.” she reached into the bag from Crosby’s and lifted out my yellow dress, smiling at it real sweet. “Here, go hang this up before it gets wrinkled.”
“How come Ginger and I couldn’t each pick our own dresses, anyhow?”
“You know I want you to match.”
“But why? It’s not like we’re twins.”
Mama sighed. “On account of I said so, Piper Lee. We’ve been through this a million times. Now please just go...