Sunday, Pastor Glenn spoke about angels. Nikki didn't realize Rich was in the pew behind her until he spoke after the closing prayer. Brandy wanted to sit on her lap, and the boys came as close to hanging on her as possible without actually touching her. Plus, all her family's friends at church had to come by and say hello and welcome her home. Nikki couldn't have seen Rich, because of all the people around her. Then the prelude music faded into the first hymn, the congregation stood to sing, and the stragglers hurried to their seats as the service began.
"Sheesh, you'd think Pastor Glenn would stay away from the trendy topics." Rich grinned at her when she turned to stare, as if delighted to have startled her.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Richie," Eleanor Thomas sighed. She slapped her son lightly on the arm, then turned all her bright-eyed attention to Nikki. "It's so nice to see you home, Nicole. You'll be joining us for dinner, of course?"
"Uh--" Dinner with Mrs. Thomas was the last thing Nikki wanted. The woman had started planning her bridal shower and picked out a china pattern for her after Nikki had dated Rich twice.
"Mom, I didn't ask Nikki to come with us yet." Rich guided his tiny mother out into the flow of traffic down the side aisle of the church. For a few moments, the Thomases were separated from the Holwood household. Nikki was grateful. She liked Mrs. Thomas, really, but she was just a little too artificial and 'correct' for Nikki's taste. She insisted on calling her Nicole, and had moaned and apologized to Nikki for months after she found out about the breakup with Rich, and why it happened. Besides, no one over fifty had a right to be skinny and darkly tanned all year round, and not a gray hair or wrinkle to be seen.
"So, can you come?" Mrs. Thomas asked, appearing out of the crowd in the church narthex. She was good at ambushes like that, Nikki remembered.
Doria met Nikki's gaze and smiled in sympathy. Nikki paused, despite her better instincts. Her politeness immediately separated her from the rest of her family.
"Sorry, but I've already got plans." Nikki said a silent prayer of thanks that she was riding to Fairlawn with Xander and Hannah. They were to meet with Joan for lunch and discuss legal matters for the Mission and what she had seen and done in her first week there.
"Oh." For a moment she was silent, and the flow of traffic moved them out into the main hallway. The congestion broke up as families headed out the doors or down halls or stairs. "Aurora will be so disappointed. She just adores you, Nicole."
"I think she's sweet." Nikki grinned, remembering the little tussle Aurora had gotten into over a rag doll the day before, getting herself muddy, and adding tears and a runny nose to the mess when she lost to the child who had been playing with the rag doll first. How in the world could Aurora let her grandmother know how she felt about someone she had just met?