Not Quite Perfect (Not Quite #5)

by Catherine Bybee

Chapter One

The problem with plumbers was every single stereotype in print, film, and gossip was true. Mary folded her arms across her chest and attempted to keep her eyes from the disturbing crack of ass peeking above the overzealous waistband of Leroy’s Dockers pants.

He pointed at the small screen showing the image of the pipe from her toilet to parts unknown. “This is where the real problem is,” he said with a grin that yelled dollar signs.

All she saw was sludge. “What is it?”

“Roots.”

“Roots? What kind of roots?”

“Probably from that pepper tree in your front yard. Nasty buggers. With the drought being as it is . . . we’re finding this all too often. Poor trees need water and your pepper has found a mainline IV of the stuff.”

“In my toilet?”

“In the drainage from your toilet.”

The postage stamp front yard of her condominium had a space of grass the size of her thumbnail and one tree. The grass was all but dead with the water police happily fining anyone found watering their yards outside the mandated times.

Leroy tugged on his camera and unearthed a smell that had her shoving a finger under her nose in an attempt to block it.

It didn’t work.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ll remove the roots and see how bad the damage is to the pipe.”

The putrid smell intensified and had Mary placing her full hand over her mouth.

Leroy simply smiled as if he were a flippin’ doe frolicking in a meadow.

“How long will this take?” she asked.

“Depends on how long these roots have been here and how far down they go.”

One more tug and Mary did what she had to do. “I’m going across the street to my friend’s. I’ll check back in about an hour.”

Leroy released a toothy smile and waved a gloved hand in the air as she turned and nearly ran out the door.

Once the door closed behind her, she shivered and sucked in a breath of fresh air. It helped that the morning had left a blanket of fog that reached to her portion of Orange County. If only that moisture had resulted in actual raindrops, problems with tree roots clogging up her pipes might not have happened.

She jogged across the street even though there wasn’t any traffic to speak of. Most of those who worked normal hours had left before the sun rose to rush to the freeway and crawl their way to the sources of their employment.

With Walt’s car missing from the driveway, Mary felt comfortable opening the door of Dakota’s condo without knocking.

Noise from the floor above told Mary that her BFF was up and walking around. “Hey, Baby Mama.”

“Up here,” Dakota’s singsong voice called from upstairs.

Mary climbed the stairs of what she considered her second home.

Dakota was in the nursery Mary and Walt had personally painted while Dakota watched a couple of months prior.

Dakota stood over the chest of drawers, folding baby clothes she’d unwrapped during the baby shower, which had happened the previous weekend. Even with a belly the size of a small city, Mary’s friend was stunning. With dark hair and skin that easily accepted the sun, she had the most expressive eyes and an attitude to match whatever life tossed her way. She’d still be wearing four-inch heels if not for her doctor husband, who threatened to throw her expensive collection in the trash if she didn’t give them up willingly. Truth was, Walt had asked Mary to hide them until after the baby was born if Dakota’s stubborn streak didn’t wane.

Thankfully, Dakota Laurens, romance author, had relented to Dakota Eddy, soon-to-be mom.

“I feel like a house,” Dakota complained as she closed the drawer of the dresser.

“If it helps . . . you only look like a cottage.”

Dakota’s wicked gaze snapped into a smile. “I love you.”

“I know.” Mary pulled the bulk of her long, curly blonde hair behind her back and stepped close to take the laundry basket from Dakota’s hands.

“I got it.”

“Humor me. Watching you move makes me hurt.”

Dakota didn’t argue as she let her belly lead the way out of the nursery. She did a little hop in the threshold. “I keep jumping in hopes Junior will get the eviction notice.”

Dakota sat at 39½ weeks and grumbled every day since her OB told her she could safely deliver at any time. In Dakota’s head that meant labor day was every day.

Junior had other ideas.

They’d all grown accustomed to calling the baby Junior, though Dakota and Walt had no intentions of giving the baby that title. The nursery they were walking away from was a plethora of yellow and green with a sprinkling of pink and blue. Everyone left tags and gift receipts for gender specific stuff. The one thing about baby gifts was the practicality of those giving. It was amazing how many people added a massive box of diapers as a joke. Dakota had added cloth diapers into the mix, organic girl that she was . . . but Mary didn’t give that much time before her friend caved to the tossable variety.

Dakota hesitated on the stairwell and held her belly.

Mary watched with a hawk’s eye.

Dakota shrugged and continued. “Not that I don’t like the company . . . but why are you here so early?”

They moved into the kitchen, where Mary insisted Dakota sit while she helped herself to the coffee that must have been made by Walt before he left for his twelve-hour ER shift. The man was pulling all kinds of overtime so he could stay home once the baby arrived.

“Want some tea?” Mary asked, knowing Dakota’s preference.

She released a moan. “God no. Can’t stand it this month.”

Mary laughed and thumbed the pink box of doughnuts on the counter. “Refined sugar?”

Dakota offered an enthusiastic nod.

Laughing, Mary placed a maple glazed on a napkin and brought it to her friend, who sat on a cushioned kitchen chair. “I’m going to love rubbing this in six months from now when you’re past all this stuff.”

Dakota bit into her doughnut with her eyes rolling into the back of her head. She chased a bit of sugar with her tongue before offering a comment. “Junior is bound to be a sugar-holic.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“Has to be some kind of explanation.”

Dakota didn’t eat refined sugar, or a ton of processed food, before she was knocked up. The switch had tossed Mary for a loop when she realized she could explore the world of fast food with her friend for the first time.