Trudie Abernathy always wondered about two things. First, how was it that some people could live charmed lives while others accumulated troubles like those beetles that spent their time rolling up balls of dung? And secondly, how could one person fall in love as effortlessly as a sneeze, while another hobbled along on love as if it were a twisted ankle?
I am the dung beetle. Trudie smiled over at her sister, who sat across from her in the limo. Lane Abernathy, her sister, was the one who lived the breezy life. Lane was an image coach and always had a string of rich and handsome boyfriends while Trudie had never known the joys of having a steady anything—she was single, not-so-sexy, and somewhat sweaty.
Lane looked out the tinted window as she chatted about some new dress shop in town. Even though Trudie felt close to her sister, they invariably looked at life through different ends of the kaleidoscope. Lane always saw the pretty rainbow designs—the ever-changing wonder of being alive—while Trudie was busy turning the little contraption around to prove the whole thing was just an illusion created out of broken glass. Yeah, that’s so me.
Lane fidgeted with her bridal pink suit—a color so fragile it looked breakable—while Trudie concerned herself with the impracticality of renting a limo. “I know it’s my birthday, but you really didn’t have to go to all this trouble. And you picked the priciest restaurant in town.” Trudie ran her fingers along the butter-cream leather on the seat, thinking it looked good enough to melt over a bacon burger.
“But it’s your favorite, and I can afford it.” Lane got up and sat next
to her sister. “Come on now. It’s not just any birthday. It’s your thirtieth.
And this year I’ve decided your gift will be a total makeover. All my sessions for free.”
“Lane, that’s way too much.”
“No arguments. The works.”
Trudie crossed her arms over her poly-blend maroon checkered jacket—a real find she’d managed to snatch up at a garage sale for fifty cents. Trudie rubbed elbows with her sister like she’d done in school.
“Remember what our English teacher said about us? There’s a certain beauty in being ugly.”
“I remember well.” Lane raised a shoulder. “We showed Mr. Belvedere, didn’t we?”
“You showed Mr. Belvedere. If he could just see you now…all slender and blonde and graceful.”
“Come on now, don’t be so hard on yourself.” Lane puckered her brow. “You just need a little polish.”
“A little polish? I’d need a whole spa crew working around the clock.”
“You can be so negative.” Lane handed Trudie a mirror out of her Prada bag. “Just look at yourself and witness all the possibilities.”
Trudie groaned. “Mirrors.” What was it she hated about mirrors? Let me count the ways. Reluctantly, she looked into the glass at her somewhat straggly blonde hair, thinnish face, and pale skin. She was no longer sure what potential should look like. Hmm. Mirrors. They were like clocks—a reminder of time. Trudie didn’t mind about the 0ne lines gathering around her blue eyes or her ivory plainness, but she did mind very much about the time. Each person would only be allotted so much of it. And now at thirty, the burning question was—had she fallen into the rhythm of her life yet? Was she using up the minutes and the decades wisely? “I don’t think so.”
“What did you say?” Lane shook her head. “You’re always murmuring things.
Trudie handed the mirror back to her sister. Shame on Lane. She was going to force her to be dissatisfied with her appearance and make her want to improve. “But you enjoy preening. For me, it’s a waste of time.”
Lane tugged on her sleeve while donning her puppy dog eyes. “You’ll never guess what I did. I brought the tiara. It’s in my purse. Why don’t you take it home and wear it?”
Like the contents of a cistern suddenly being stirred, things unnamed deep inside Thanks, though.” Mist stung Trudie’s eyes, but she shook off the emotion.
“Listen, I don’t mean to downplay what you do as an image coach. You’ve helped a lot of people succeed in what they do. But wouldn’t it be better for me to find a man who loves me this way than to remake myself into something I’m not? I mean he might wake up the day after our honeymoon and ask for a refund.”
“But you won’t be somebody different. You’ll be Trudie à la mode.”
She grinned, shaking her head at her sister. Then Trudie leaned back, determined to enjoy the ride—something she had trouble doing in a limo and in life. The jazzy velvet luxury of their cocoon felt nice compared to her backfiring jalopy that had so many odd parts it could no longer claim a brand name. “Sometimes I think I was born on the wrong planet.”
“That’s what you always say when you’re wrong and I’m right. Or you want to change the subject. Come on now, give me a chance to help you. Pleeease.”
It was always hard to say no to Lane. “Let me think about it.” Even though her logic was sometimes defective, there was something irresistible about it too.
“Well, here’s my first tip. A little peachy lip gloss will light up the face instantly.” Lane handed her a pink wand. “Try it. I bought it just for you.”
Trudie swiped some of the slippery goop on her lips. She knew it was supposed to be silky and exotic, but why did it smell like dirty house shoes? “Thanks.”
“By the way, I hope it’s okay, but my financial advisor is meeting us for lunch. You remember me mentioning Mason Wimberley. I went out with him some months ago. He’s a fine Christian man, and I think—”
“Yes, I remember you talking about him.” Trudie lifted her hand.
“But please tell me this isn’t a blind date.”
Lane pinked darker than her pumps.
“Oy. A blind date.” Trudie rolled her eyes. Lane never could hide a secret from her.
“It was Mason’s idea. You know, after I told him all about you.”
“You either lied your head off about me, or he has issues you never told me about…like he uses one of those plastic toothpicks out of an army knife or his hair has all migrated from his head to his ears.” Trudie raised a big sister eyebrow.
Lane gave her a gentle slug on the arm. “None of the above.”
“Then why did you stop dating him?”
“Oh, I just thought it seemed like a conflict to date my financial advisor.” Her sister shrugged. “Kind of like dating your gynecologist.”
Trudie laughed. “Well, not quite like that.”
Lane chuckled and then stared at her sister long enough to catch her gaze. “I think it’s time for your dreams to come true, Trudie.”
See what I mean? As smart as Lane was, she was living proof that women who wore too much pink lost 20 percent of their reasoning abilities. !at was how the male sex always got the edge in business. They don’t wear pink! “Life’s not a fairy tale, Lane. It’s really just a cruel allegory with demented little gnomes who want to turn our happy coaches of merriment into pumpkin puree.”
Lane pulled back, gaping at Trudie. “Where did you come up with that?”
Trudie blinked. “I have no idea.”
“You used to say stuff like that all the time when we were kids.” Lane chuckled.
“I guess I did.” Trudie dug her fingernail into the dimple on her chin. “But you know, life really isn’t a bedtime story or a fun comic book. Those dreams you were talking about…they’re gone.”
Lane smoothed her already wrinkle-free skirt. “Remember on the farm when we’d climb up on the barn roof at night? We’d stare up at the stars as we talked about what we were going to do with our lives?”
Trudie looked at her sister. “Yeah, I do. I remember.” Perhaps she could remember too well. She suddenly felt itchy and hot in her maroon jacket.
“Why don’t we talk about something else.”
“I followed my dream, and I never gave up. I think that last part is the key.”
She guessed that Lane wasn’t going to give up easily. Trudie looked out the window at the pregnant blush of summer—like spring, it was another season for optimists—and the two seasons she could never seem to catch up with. “Yes, you did make it, but God has been smiling down on you since the first day you showed your face.”
“He’s smiling on you too.”
Trudie patted her sister’s hand. Perhaps He had once.
“You know, over the years you’ve done a lot of good at the children’s hospital. Don’t you think those kids would want you to do something for Trudie?”
Lane must feel desperate since she was playing the emotional card. “Okay. We’ll see.” Trudie cleared her throat. “So, is this Mason guy even a little bit handsome?”
Lane cocked her head as a smidgen of smugness lit her smile. “He dresses well, and he looks like Superman.”
“Oh, really?” She couldn’t imagine why her sister would give up Superman. Nobody would. Unless, of course, you were Lex Luthor’s girlfriend. Trudie chuckled to herself. !en she li1ed her foot and noticed a wad of green gum stuck to her shoe. She tried wiping it off without making a scene, but it persisted in becoming one with her sole. Oh, well. What could she say? Life was sticky.
The limo finished winding its way through the tree-lined streets and came to an elegant stop in front of Gaston’s Bistro on Staitti Street. Lane ran her tongue over her teeth and 2u"ed her hair. “Well, it’s show time.”
“Who’s that man coming towards us?” Trudie ignored the chewing gum and instead scrubbed the perspiration o" her hands.
“Oh, that’s Mason. I guess he decided to come meet us out here. That’s very sweet.” Lane waved even though no one could see them through the tinted glass.
Before the chauffeur could get to their side, the well-dressed man called Mason opened the limo door for them. He held out his hand to Trudie, and she followed his arm all the way up to his face. Nice. She was so moved by his asymmetrical but compelling smile that her feet seemed to forget how to hold up her body. She bumbled outward as her mouth released a yelp that sounded remarkably like a newborn coyote. But the highlight of Trudie’s descent into mortifcation was her hulking fall into
the waiting arms of the man who really did look just like Superman.