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Gone With a Handsomer Man

All I ever wanted in life was true love, a set of copper
cookware, and the perfect recipe for Red Velvet cake. The last
thing I wanted was to end up on Charleston's six o'clock news,
accused of murder and a slew of other crimes.

It started Monday, the first week in June, when I got the dates
wrong for my cake baking class. Numbers don't usually stick in my
mind, but this one did because it was my 29th birthday. My
fiancé, Bing Jackson, surprised me with the darlingest gifts
--- pastry bags, a 53-piece Wilton Supreme decorating set, and
eight pre-paid classes at the Vivienne Beaumont School of Cake

Before we left Bing's house in Mount Pleasant, he opened a
bottle of Möet and we toasted our upcoming wedding. Then we
drove across the river into downtown Charleston and turned down
East Bay Street. He pointed to a red brick building with a giant,
neon cupcake sitting on the roof.

"Teeny, this is where you'll be every Thursday from seven to ten
p.m.," he said. "Classes start June fourth --- that's only three
days from now."

A lot of women might have gotten suspicious over the exact
details, but not me. Bing was all about timing. Thanks to the giant
clock inside his head, he'd never been late to a real estate
closing or open house. His Rolex was just for show.

"Teenykins, I signed you up for this class because I want you to
make our wedding cake," he said. "But I don't want something
traditional. How about an 18-hole golf course? You can do sand
traps and little spun-sugar balls."

"You bet." I threw my arms around his neck. We were getting
married in August --- only ten weeks to go --- and my thoughts were
already skipping ahead to the wedding. Maybe I could make the
groom's cake, too, something unusual like a giant tee or a Big
Bertha driver.

On Thursday night, I put down the top on my beat-up turquoise
Oldsmobile and drove from Bing's house across the Cooper River. The
school's parking lot was empty and I began to fret. Was I Miss
Vivienne's only student, or had I arrived a tad early?

I leaned toward the rearview mirror and combed my wind-blown
hair --- it's long and blonde, prone to tangles. Normally I didn't
drive with the convertible top down, but my air conditioner was
broken. I grabbed my cake decorating kit, along with the enrollment
packet, and walked to the door. It was locked, and a memo was taped
to the glass. Due to circumstances beyond Miss Vivienne's control,
classes had been rescheduled and would commence next

I walked back to my Olds and drove back to Mount Pleasant. When
I passed the Piggly Wiggly on Ben Sawyer Boulevard, I did a U-turn
and angled into the parking lot. I came out with an apple walnut
salad with raspberry vinaigrette, a wedge of brie, and a cheesecake
sampler. Nothing beats fresh, simple food on a sticky hot summer
night in Charleston.

It was almost eight o'clock when I turned down Rifle Range Road.
The sky curved above me like an oyster shell, ribbed and grainy.
Even though it was still daylight, the moon was on the rise, moving
through the clouds like a dropped pearl. Long before Mama left for
good, she used to say a full moon cleared troublesome matters of
the heart, wiped the slate clean, and resolved unfinished

My heart wasn't burdened in the least as I sped down the
highway. I turned into Jackson Estates, a new subdivision the
economy had flattened. Bing owned all thirteen acres, and his green
stucco house sat in the rear, surrounded by peach trees and empty
lots. A real peaceful setting. But the minute I pulled into the
driveway, I knew something was wrong. First, my bulldog, Sir,
didn't shoot out of the doggie door to greet me. Second, a white
BMW convertible was parked under the mimosa. The license plate
read, PAR-T-GIRL. Not a good sign. Not at all.

From the backyard, I heard laughter, the high, twittery girlish
kind. I stayed in my car, trying to get a deep breath, but the air
was thick and watery. The last thing I needed was an asthma attack.
I grabbed my inhaler and took a puff, then I got out of the

Weeds brushed against my legs as I walked around the house. Our
badminton net stood in the middle of the backyard. A boom box sat
on the patio table, and Muse was singing, "Ruled by Secrecy," which
isn't about cheating but ought to be. I started to holler for Bing
when a naked brunette ran across the grass and swung her badminton
racket at the birdie. I ducked behind a peach tree. Through the
branches, I saw Bing and a tall redhead race toward the net. They
were naked, too.

I sucked in air, and it whistled through the thin gap between my
front teeth. For weeks now, Bing had been pressuring me to do
something kinky, but I had no idea he'd wanted a trifecta. Tears
stung my eyes as I looked at the women. They had perky chi-chis, no
tan lines, and no cellulite.

Me, I'm a little too short and curvy, with brown eyes and the
aforementioned blonde hair. When I was a little girl, Mama would
get drunk and call me Possum Head. Sometimes she'd get on a roll
and point out my major failings: my elbows were too far down, my
teeth resembled a picket fence, I was too sweet and gullible, and
my hair looked like something that grew in the Okefenokee Swamp.
After she'd sober up, she'd hug me and say, "Teeny, nobody's
perfect. Besides, you've got a good heart." Now that heart dropped
to my navel and tapped a code: Run, Teeny. Run.

The redhead grabbed the birdie. She was all legs and hair.
Instead of hitting the birdie with her racquet, she giggled and
threw it over the net. It was a prissy throw, but the brunette
sacked the hell out of it. Bing took off running, his dangly parts

I'd stood in line at Target to buy that badminton set. Bing had
fussed when I'd called the white thing a birdie. He'd told me to
call it by its proper name, a shuttlecock. Speaking of which, his
privates jiggled violently as his racquet smashed into the birdie.
It shot over the brunette's head and thumped into my herb

"You get it," the brunette told the redhead, then she struck a
pose --- hand on her hipbone, one leg bent at the knee, like she
was a contestant in the Miss Tall Gal Pageant. The redhead squatted
beside the rosemary bush and glanced around for the birdie. She
wasn't a knockout like her friend, but she was graceful.

Bing slipped under the net, his straight blonde hair falling
into his eyes, and placed the edge of the racquet under Miss Tall's
chin. Her head tilted back, and Bing kissed her pouty, wasp-stung
lips like he'd never kissed me.

I flattened my palms against the warm grass. A tear hit the back
of my hand. St. Andrews Episcopal was reserved for our August 15th
wedding. It wasn't too late to cancel, right? I'd found true love
once. I didn't expect to find it again. But I didn't have to settle
for this. I could still opt for those copper pans and a good

My bulldog sniffed Miss Tall's leg. She kicked him and Sir
yelped. That did it. I wouldn't let this skank abuse an innocent
dog. I swallowed back tears. Things weren't perfect between me and
Bing, but I had no idea he was a man-whore. There's no canary in
the coal mine for cheating men.

The redhead held up the birdie and looked past Bing, straight
into my eyes. "Hey, there's a girl watching us," she yelled.

I ducked low as Bing and Miss Tall broke apart. I'm mostly a
calm person, but I wanted justice. I could break off a switch and
beat their bony asses. But girls like that worked in a team. I'd
end up in a body cast.

"This is private property," Bing cried. "Leave now, and I won't
call the police."

"You can call Jesus, for all I care," I said.

Sir's head twisted when he heard my voice. I gazed up into the
dark branches, each one loaded with hard, unripe fruit. I grabbed a
low branch and shimmied up the trunk, not so easy in shorts. My
legs would be a scratchy mess.

"Who is she?" asked the redhead. She walked toward the net.

"My fiancée," Bing said.

"I thought it was a dwarf," said Miss Tall.

I couldn't argue with her. I'm barely 5' 2". When I was a kid, I
was short in a noticeable way. It's how I got my name.

Bing tipped back his head. "Teeny, why are you in a tree?" he
hollered up.

"Why are you naked?" I called down.

Sir ran to the tree and barked. I pulled off my engagement ring
and threw it at Bing. He jumped back, like I'd hurled a watermelon.
That gave me an idea. I grabbed a peach. In a month, it would be
ripe, but now it was hard and heavy. I reared back and tossed it at
Miss Tall. She ducked, and it hit Bing's shoulder. "Hey!" he cried.
"Cut that out."

"Screw you," I yelled and lobbed another fruit. It smacked
against Miss Tall's hip. She screamed and threw her racquet at the
tree. I grabbed another peach and aimed it at her mouth, but she
ducked. The fruit hit the boom box; it knocked over and the music

I tossed another and another. One peach smashed the redhead's
nose. Her chin snapped back, and blood trickled out of her
nostrils, streaming over her lip. Bing stepped in front of her and
spread his arms, shielding her.

I fired down two more peaches. One whizzed over Bing's head, but
the other slammed into his nether-region. He screeched and doubled
over. The redhead hung back, crying over her busted nose, but Miss
Tall looked ready to fight. I threw peaches as fast as I could. It
was like the old days when the pickers' kids and I had fruit

"Dammit, Teeny. Get the hell out of that tree," Bing cried.
Though he was still bent into a C, he herded the women to the
patio, into the house. Even the dog went. I stayed in the tree
until Bing came back. He dared me to move as he pulled on his

The police arrived a few minutes later. I started to climb down,
but my hair caught on a branch. Bing's entourage came out of the
house. The women had gotten dressed. The redhead pressed a bag of
frozen Brussels sprouts to her nose.

"You're going to jail," she yelled.

"I'm not the criminal," I said.

"This is pre-spousal abuse," Bing cried. "Nobody hits me."

I didn't get scared until two policemen advanced toward my tree.
One was tall with pointy ears and the other had a caterpillar
crawling on his lip. Then I saw it was a moustache. The
pointy-eared cop ordered me to climb down. While I tried to explain
about the naked women and my snagged hair, Bing yelled, "I'll get
my chainsaw."

He walked toward the garage. "Bing, no," I cried. In my mind,
peach trees meant love, shelter, and comfort. I'd grown up on a
peach farm in Bonaventure, Georgia. Bing knew how I felt. The
engagement was broken but the tree should stay in one piece.

The mustached cop looked up at me. "Lady, it's against the law
to hit people with peaches."

"Too bad I didn't yank them baldheaded," I said.

"This ain't funny," the caterpillared cop yelled.

Bing returned with the chain saw. I was in trouble now. Even
though this was Mount Pleasant, I totally expected to get slapped
with the death penalty. A mighty buzz filled the air as Bing leaned
toward the tree. Bark churned in the air as the blade cut a wide
kerf. The trunk cracked and leaned sideways. The cops lowered it to
the ground and handcuffed me.

Needless to say, the wedding was off.

Excerpted from GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN © Copyright 2011
by Michael Lee West. Reprinted with permission by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved.

Gone With a Handsomer Man
by by Michael Lee West

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312571224
  • ISBN-13: 9780312571221