Life After Perfect

By: Nancy Naigle

Chapter One

June days in Georgia were mostly spectacular and sunny, if not a little too darn hot, and on this particular one, the weather wasn’t a match for the mood.

Katherine Barclift and her husband, Ron, walked hand in hand up the landscaped path leading to the huge church where the funeral service was being held for their neighbor, Donald O’Connor.

A large crowd had gathered already. As folks filed through the tall arched front doors of the chapel, Katherine spotted Peggy Allen and Shaleigh Wright waiting near the entrance.

She made a beeline for her two friends. “It’s so sad,” she said as she reached out to hug Peggy. Ron hung back a couple steps.

“Poor Bertie. I can’t believe Donald died like that. No warning at all,” Peggy said. “I mean, if he were a type A guy I could totally see it happening, but all Donald did was golf and fish. How hard can that be on the heart?”

“I know.” Katherine shook her head. “So sad, and he wasn’t that old.” He was the same age her parents were, and the news of his death had made Katherine worry about them for the first time.

“You’ve been with Bertie all week, Katherine. She hadn’t seen any signs?” Shaleigh asked.

“None.” Katherine shrugged. “She said he was perfectly fine. Just didn’t wake up.”

“He seemed so healthy,” Peggy said.

Ron placed his hand on Katherine’s arm and said, “I’ll go ahead and sign the guest book and get us seats while you talk.”

“Sure, honey. Thanks.” Katherine watched as her husband walked up the stairs to the chapel. He still had a way of making her swoon. He hadn’t had to adjust his wardrobe at all for the funeral today. He sported a nice suit and tie every day of the week. Katherine turned to Shaleigh. “Is it just me or is this the biggest chapel you’ve ever seen? I always thought chapels were small, with steeples twice as tall as the buildings were wide.”

“I think it’s just you,” Shaleigh said. “Living in that pretend world you like to think is so charming and perfect.”

“Perfect is good. Or perfect. Whatever it is, I like my world that way, thank you very much,” Katherine teased, but it was only a half-joke. After spending the week with Bertie, helping her figure out her finances and funeral arrangements, Katherine had a long laundry list of things she planned to discuss with her own parents and sister to ensure they were better prepared than poor Bertie had been.

Shaleigh raised a heavily penciled brow. “Well, someone’s life ought to be perfect. May as well be you.”

No one really knew how old Shaleigh was. Her long dark hair had a youthful sheen and she had only a few tiny wrinkles right around her eyes. But even with those good features, all put together, she was more interesting-looking than attractive. Some would say even harsh-looking. Just as harsh as her reputation.

Rumors in Preakness Heights ran the gamut—from thirty-something to fifty-something. It didn’t matter how old she was, though, because the woman was the best divorce lawyer in Atlanta. Local men hated her, because if Shaleigh was representing your former better half, she’d drag your sorry ass through whatever it took to get her client a hefty settlement. Shaleigh seemed to love that she made men cringe, too. Seemed to take a little pride in it, actually—sometimes taking time to point out past prey.

“Can you believe how many people are here?” Peggy, almost six feet tall in her heels, with natural red hair that would send Paul Mitchell into fits of envy, looked around and nodded politely as people passed.

“I know,” Katherine said. “No doubt the O’Connors met and mingled with a lot of folks in their lifetime, but we’ve lived next door to them for five years. If Bertie’s seen hide or hair of even a quarter of these people, they must have been sneaking in over the back fence.”

Peggy nodded. “Tucker was surprised by how many people were here too. Did Bertie and Donald go to this church?”

“I have no idea. I guess so. Where is Tucker?” Katherine asked.

“Same as yours. Went inside to sit down. I guess he thinks the sooner he’s in a pew, the sooner it will be over. You know the world rises and sets on him, right?”

The three women laughed.

“I think everyone from the neighborhood is here. That’s nice,” Peggy added.

Preakness Heights was filled with busy professional couples, and although Katherine wouldn’t call most of them friends, they did look out for one another. Kind of an unspoken law of the neighborhood. Just like Bertie had asked for help from Katherine this week.

“So, what exactly were you doing for Bertie this week?” Shaleigh asked.

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